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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
A major surge in Chinese tourist numbers visiting North Korea has resumed, travel industry specialists told NK News, following a period from mid-August to mid-September during which PRC nationals almost completely stopped visiting the country.
Hundreds of Chinese tourists are now arriving in Pyongyang each day, with “up to a thousand or more on some days,” said Koryo Tours General Manager Simon Cockerell on Wednesday.
That figure excludes those visiting the border city of Sinuiju in the northwest of the DPRK, as well as those entering via the border city of Namyang in the north and Rason in the northeast.
And at the demilitarized border zone separating the two Koreas, nearly 1000 Chinese tourists visited the DPRK side in a single day in mid-September, an informed travel source told NK News on condition of anonymity.
In order to facilitate resumed Chinese interest in visiting North Korea, the state carrier Air Koryo began a new bi-weekly charter route between Pyongyang and the city of Dalian, PRC-based media outlets and flight tracker data suggested in late September.
The numbers are significant when considering only 4000-5000 Western visitors visit Pyongyang each year, likely bringing in notable amounts of hard currency to providers and vendors linked to North Korea’s state tourism sector.
While tourism is not a sanctioned activity, the sudden and large number of Chinese tourists going to North Korea from June this year – in the wake of Kim Jong Un’s third summit meeting with Xi Jinping – has recently raised questions about what could be causing the surge.
This is especially given two partial Chinese bans on tours to the North, one from November last year – after repeated DPRK missiles tests – and one after a catastrophic bus accident killed 32 Chinese nationals visiting the country in April.
Because of preparations for North Korea’s 70th-anniversary celebrations on September 9, DPRK authorities also unexpectedly suspended most Chinese tourism through most of August.
But starting again from “September 14 exactly,” the Chinese tourism interest became “back in full force,” said Cockerell, the Koryo Tours manager.
“Usually (the Chinese visitors) stay at Sosan these days – also Yanggakdo to an extent – but Sosan is the main Pyongyang hotel for Chinese groups,” he said.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News