South Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo reported Tuesday that North Korea is demanding the United States help build a “world-class resort” in Wonsan, the port city where it hosted journalists for the alleged shutdown of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site last month as a condition of a peace agreement.
The demand reportedly came during last week’s meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and top North Korean official and U.S.-designated terrorist Kim Yong-chol in Washington.
The Dong-A Ilbo report arrives as speculation grows surrounding who will pay for a planned meeting in Singapore between Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un. Multiple reports suggest that Kim has demanded a $6,000-a-night hotel room but refuses to pay for it.
North Korea forced South Korean taxpayers to pick up its tab for participating in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and demanded $10,000 per journalist to allow them to attend the alleged shutdown of Punggye-ri. It has historically demanded that diplomatic partners pay for any and all steps of rapprochement with the rest of the world.
According to Dong-A Ilbo, Kim Yong-chol requested that Washington “support a plan to build a world-class resort in the eastern port city of Wonsan.” The report cites “a diplomatic source familiar with the matter” claiming that Kim described the Wonsan resort plan to Trump and asked for support, but it does not go so far as to say whether Kim requested the United States help finance it. The plan would involve building a new casino and ski resort in the area, which the South Korean newspaper suggests would bring in an estimated $50 million a year to the North Korean government.
Kim did mention the possibility of a “step-by-step lifting of international sanctions against the regime in return for their denuclearization efforts,” which would help bring money into Pyongyang for use in economic development, assuming Kim Jong-un does shut down his nuclear program.
North Korea is also reportedly attempting to ensure that the Kim regime does not have to pay for any of the amenities necessary for a scheduled summit between Kim and Trump on June 12 in Singapore. According to the Washington Post and Associated Press reports, Kim may have demanded a free stay in a $6,000-a-night room, paid for by the United States or Singapore. The government of Singapore, which is hosting the event, has reportedly entertained picking up the tab to ensure that the summit occurs.
The AP notes that there is no evidence that Pyongyang could not afford paying for the hotel itself. “North Korea’s government, which is no stranger to hosting lavish events like military parades and party congresses of its own, has ample funds to cover important meetings for Kim,” the AP states, citing foreign experts who believe Kim is “worth well over $1 billion” and has “access to billions [of] dollars more thanks to the full backing of his country.”
The scramble to ensure that other parties pay for as many things as possible in the process of diplomatic re-engagement has long been a staple of North Korean diplomacy. The AP notes that South Korean taxpayers funded the visit of more than 400 North Korean citizens to the PyeongChang games to the tune of $2.5 million. Seoul reportedly spent twice that on the Panmunjom summit between Kim and leftist South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April.
The demand to help create a tourist destination within North Korea may also be a sign that international sanctions, the strongest ever placed on North Korea, are having an effect. Following several meetings with the North Koreans, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that Kim Jong-un told him he hopes for “economic help from America” in exchange for any respect for international law. Following his meeting with Kim Yong-chol, however, President Trump made it clear he does not expect taxpayers to foot the bill.
“I don’t think the United States is going to have to spend,” he told reporters at the White House last week. “South Korea will do that. I think South Korea will do it. I think China – I think, frankly, China will help out. I think Japan will help out. I don’t see the United States spending a lot of money.”
Various estimates have placed the cost of the reunification of the Korean peninsula – that is, creating a modern society in North Korea – between $2 trillion, South Korea’s entire GDP for 2017, and $5 trillion. Thus, South Korea has pressured the United States to contribute to the costs, along with China, North Korea’s largest trade partner. The two states issued a joint statement last month demanding that “the international community, including the United States, must actively take part in ensuring a bright future for North Korea through a security guarantee and support for its economic development.”
Chinese state media have openly called for Washington to offer Kim Jong-un “attractive rewards” if it expects North Korea to behave like a law-abiding state. Estimates using photos of gifts issued to Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, during their visit to Beijing in March found that China may have given the couple nearly $400,000 in personal gifts, likely violating international sanctions on luxury goods to North Korean human rights abusers.
Wonsan is the port city where North Korea lodged international journalists traveling into the country last month to cover the Punggye-ri shutdown; several reports indicated that part of the agreement to allow them in the country was for the journalists to show the beauty of Wonsan in their coverage. In addition to free press, Pyongyang made sure to profit off of that display by charging $10,000 a person for media visas, far higher than the typical $60-$100 each that most travelers pay.