Chinese tourists continue visiting North Korea despite UN ban

Published on : Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Chinese touristsTourism sources said that Chinese tourists continue visiting North Korean capital, Pyongyang from China’s border city of Dandong, even after authorities unofficially halted the tours just ahead of U.S. President Trump’s visit to China last month.

A group of 40 Chinese tourists left on Friday from Dandong to Pyongyang, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said, a sign that local authorities have not been strongly enforcing curbs on tourist flows.

Dandong, a city of 800,000 people in northeastern Liaoning province, is the main trading hub on the Chinese side of the border and most tour companies that take Chinese tourists to North Korea are based there. The U.N. sanctions have particularly hit Dandong’s economy this year.

“This is the largest group to go in from Dandong since the curb,” a tour operator said, adding the tourists travelled by train into North Korea for a four-day tour. The Dandong Tourism Bureau declined to be interviewed for this story. When asked for comment, China’s foreign ministry said they did “not understand the situation.”

Local businesses in China are known to find ways around policies introduced by local authorities or Beijing, whether in good times or bad. “There’s always a way around government policies,” said one Dandong-based tourism source. “You know how Chinese people are.” “I think the central government will be very annoyed at Dandong for lifting the travel restriction,” the tour operator said.

Tourism to North Korea is not banned by the United Nations and is one of the few remaining ways that North Korea earns hard currency. The Korea Maritime Institute, a South Korean think-tank, estimates that tourism generates about $44 million in annual revenue for North Korea.

Simon Cockerell, head of Beijing-based Koryo Tours which organises travel to North Korea, said he saw three to four busloads of Chinese tourists in Pyongyang in mid November. “But I’m not sure where they entered from or what visas they were on,” he said. “If you have a visa to North Korea, it doesn’t say where you can and can’t go. So once you enter into Sinuiju or Rason, you could travel onwards to Pyongyang. The North Koreans wouldn’t care,” Cockerell said. Sinuiju and Rason are popular entry points for Chinese tourists travelling overland into North Korea

China never publicly announced a ban on Chinese tourists visiting Pyongyang and strongly opposes unilateral sanctions, which it says undermines U.N. unity. But the day before U.S President Donald Trump’s first official visit to China in early November, a news agency exclusively reported that the Dandong Tourism Bureau had told Chinese tour operators based in Dandong to halt trips to North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang.

Almost all tours to North Korea have stopped and many Dandong-based companies who traditionally conducted business with North Korea are struggling, sources told Reuters. “A lot of the more successful Chinese businessmen have gone on holidays because there’s nothing for them to do around here at the moment,” said one Chinese businessman in Dandong.

Beijing has repeatedly said it is rigorously enforcing U.N. resolutions aimed at reining in Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programmes. North Korea has accelerated the pace of its missile tests this year. China’s trade with North Korea has already fallen to its lowest in months.

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