Koryo Air to begin flying Dandong to Pyongyang

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Koryo Air to begin flying Dandong to Pyongyang

Dandong International Airport announced Tuesday it would allow North Korea’s state-owned flag carrier, Koryo Air, to operate flights linking the Chinese city with Pyongyang, in what appears to be another show of protest against South Korea’s decision to deploy an antimissile shield.

The airport, located just above the border separating China and North Korea, said in a statement that round-trip flights will be available from next Tuesday, and that the decision was based on growing demand among Chinese wanting to visit the North’s capital.

It will be the airport’s first time providing any travel routes to the North, although other Chinese airports have been offering flights to the reclusive nation.

The news is alarming on its own for both Seoul and Washington, which blacklisted Koryo Air late last year in each of their unilateral sanctions. While announcing the measures, the U.S. Treasury Department said Koryo Air “reportedly transported from Pyongyang spare parts or items used in Scud-B missile systems, which the UN prohibits exporting to North Korea.”

It added that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is known to have access to a private jet decorated with the Koryo Air logo.

The additional sanctions followed Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9, the strongest to date. A U.S. think tank on North Korean affairs, 38 North, recently predicted that Pyongyang could be preparing for a sixth test, citing satellite imagery of the area around the Punggye-ri nuclear site in North Hamgyong Province, where all five tests have previously been held.

“The international community is on the same page when it comes to sanctioning North Korea,” said a South Korean government official, who asked not to be named. “But to have China give approval to a North Korean flag carrier that’s on South Korea’s blacklist, it could be a signal that Beijing is upset about Seoul’s decision to deploy Thaad,” the official said, using the acronym for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

Beijing sees the missile shield as a way for the United States to spy on its airspace, although Seoul and Washington maintain it is not. China has implemented a sprawling set of economic retaliations against the South for the decision to host the battery, including the banning of Chinese travel agencies from booking their customers trips here.

In his first visit to Korea last Friday as U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson called on China for an attitude adjustment, saying the retaliations were “inappropriate” and that Washington asks for it to “refrain from such action.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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