President Moon Jae-in said Friday his administration will continue a push to restart a major inter-Korean tour program, as he visited an eastern province bordering North Korea.
"(The government) will continue to make efforts for the early resumption of the Mount Kumgang tour," he said at the DMZ Museum in Goseong, receiving a briefing on Gangwon Province's campaign for peace-based regional economic growth.
The joint venture of the two Koreas was launched in 1998 as a symbol of their budding economic cooperation at that time. For South Koreans, Gangwon Province was the sole gateway to the famous mountain sitting along the east coast of the communist nation.
The tour project came to a halt in 2008 after a South Korean traveler there was shot dead by a North Korean guard.
"Through the Mount Kumgang tour program, Gangwon Province already experienced that peace constitutes economy," the president said on the eve of the first anniversary of his historic Panmunjom summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Moon hopes to resume the inter-Korean project as an incentive for Pyongyang to take substantive denuclearization steps. But UN
sanctions on Pyongyang are an obstacle. The United States is concerned about the pace of economic cooperation with North Korea amid no clear progress in denuclearization.
Moon also said his government will speed up the work to connect the 104-kilometer-long railway between Gangneung and Jejin in the province with a view to relinking an inter-Korean rail line along the east coast.
"(The government) will connect the Gangneung-Jejin railroad, which is the southern section of the Donghae Bukbu (north) Line, at an early date," he said.
He added that the rail line is expected to serve as the "main artery" of Gangwon Province's development and a stepping stone for the Korean Peninsula to emerge as a logistical hub of Northeast Asia via the "Iron Silk Road."
The mountainous province, which boasts scenic coastlines as well, is known for many tourist attractions. Peace is another potential growth engine.
The provincial authorities briefed Moon on its "Peace Economy, Gangwon Vision" strategy.
Moon described it as a "new milestone toward peace and prosperity" in Korea.
"The government will provide adequate support," he said. "Amid an audacious journey to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a peace regime, the government will prepare for the peace economy era of the peninsula, together with Gangwon Province."
He recalled the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics held in the province.
North Korea sent a delegation to the games, ushering in detente on the peninsula following years of sharp military tensions.
Moon's warm approach toward the North led to three rounds of bilateral summits last year alone and top-down nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.
He's seeking to meet again with the North's leader as soon as possible in a bid to help revitalize the peace process stalled by the no-deal Hanoi meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump.
The president then trekked a "peace trail" in the Goseong area of the Demilitarized Zone, a day before its opening to the public.
It's a fruit of his endeavor to ease military tensions on the peninsula and turn the heavily fortified DMZ into a peace zone.
Earlier in the day, Moon met with a group of residents staying at a shelter in Sokcho after being displaced by a massive wildfire that hit huge swathes of the province in early April.
His trip to the region was the latest in a series of presidential tours of cities and towns outside Seoul and Gyeonggi Province meant to help boost local economies, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
Moon began the "economy tour" across the nation in 2018.
Gangwon is his fifth destination this year as he had previously traveled to Ulsan, Daejeon, Busan and Daegu. (Yonhap)