Beijing cracks down on group tours to North KoreaChinese travel agencies, including major state-owned ones, have reportedly stopped selling package tours to North Korea amid the regime’s continued provocations and saber rattling by Washington.
State-owned China International Travel Service (CITS) and online travel company Ctrip.com have halted selling travel packages to North Korea, reported the South China Morning Post on Sunday, along with other Chinese tour operators.
“The details related to the Chinese government’s orders on a travel ban to North Korea cannot be determined for now,” a South Korean government official said Monday. “However, if it is true, this reflects that North Korea’s nuclear development has advanced to the level it is a threat to China as well, and would show Beijing a means to align to the United States’ position to strengthen sanctions on North Korea.”
Chinese authorities earlier this year ordered travel agencies to halt selling package tours to South Korea in retaliation for the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, anti-missile system.
If the reports on a ban on travel to the North are true, China would essentially be halting tourism to the entire Korea Peninsula.
The Chinese government has not clarified its position.
But Koryo Tours, a British travel agency based in Beijing, said that none of its tours to North Korea have been canceled.
In a statement on its website, the travel agency stated, “We are in regular contact with the British Embassy in Pyongyang whose advice has not changed regarding travel to the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). None of our tours are being cancelled, nor is there a need to cut any of our current tours short, and we will continue to visit the DPRK as we have always done since 1993.”
It added that there had been no issues with its scheduled Air Koryo flights, or trains back into China.
Koryo Tour has a three-day package departing on April 24 to mark the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the North Korean People’s Army, starting at 1,290 Euros ($1,372), and has 23 trips scheduled between May and December.
The agency was founded in 1993 by two British citizens living in China, Nick Bonner and Josh Green, and claims its takes more than 2,000 people to North Korea each year.
Last week, Air China, which was the only Chinese airline that provided flights to North Korea, was reported to have suspended flights from Beijing to Pyongyang starting on Monday.
The airline later said it was temporarily cancelling some flights, blaming poor ticket sales, reported CCTV.
North Korea’s flagship carrier Air Koryo increased its Pyongyang-Beijing flights from twice a week to five times a week after Air China halted its flights to the North.
Air Koryo initially operated flights between Pyongyang and Beijing on Tuesdays and Sundays. It appears to have increased flights to Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays as well.
Chinese authorities also banned all imports of North Korean coal on Feb. 26 and earlier this month rejected North Korean vessels carrying coal exports.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KIM ROK-HWAN, SARAH KIM [email@example.com]