Undaunted by tensions, Chinese tourists flock into North Korea
Share this article:
Undeterred by escalating
tensions between Pyongyang and Washington rattling nerves
globally, a steady stream of tourists from China each morning
passes through the immigration checkpoint at the border trading
hub of Dandong.
Greeting them on the North Korean side are dozens of tour
buses, collecting them for itineraries ranging from a day in
neighbouring Sinijiu to a week visiting North Korea's main
cities, including the capital Pyongyang.
"We're curious. We want to see how they live," Xu Juan said
on Thursday before crossing the Yalu River, which marks the
border between the two countries. Xu was travelling with friends
and family from Hangzhou, in eastern China.
"I just want the sense of nostalgia, to see a country that
is poor, like (China was) when I was young," said a man in his
early 50s, from Jilin province, declining to give his name.
Few expressed concern over the North's persistent missile
tests in recent months, which led the United Nations Security
Council on Saturday to impose tough new sanctions against
North Korea dismissed on Thursday warnings by U.S. President
Donald Trump that it would face "fire and fury" if it threatened
the United States as a "load of nonsense", and outlined plans
for a missile strike near the Pacific territory of Guam.
But tour operators said their industry remains robust.
Traffic, especially on lower-end group tours, has grown
steadily to one of the world's most isolated states over the
past few years, despite North Korea's persistent nuclear and
missile tests, which have drawn ever-tightening U.N. sanctions.
A flyer for the one-day tour to Sinijiu tout a trip to the
city’s central plaza, where you can pay respects to a bronze
statue of North Korea's founding president Kim il-Sung, as well
as visits to a cosmetics factory, a revolutionary history
museum, art history museum and a cultural park.
"You can feast on the North Korean speciality food by warm
and hospitable North Koreans," it says.
Ferries and Speedboats
China's tourism authority has not published a breakdown of
the total number of Chinese visitors to North Korea since 2012,
when it said 237,000 made the trip.
But the number travelling just from Dandong spiked to
580,000 in the second half of 2016 alone, according to the
state-run China News Service. The report said 85 percent of
Chinese tourist visits to North Korea originated from Dandong.
That's still only a fraction of the 8 million Chinese who
visited South Korea in 2016.
Tourists can take ferries or charter speedboats down the
Yalu for an up-close peek at North Korean villages and
patrolling border guards.
One tour operator targeting wealthier, more adventurous
travellers said it was receiving more inquiries in recent weeks
over whether it was safe to travel.
"But those that inquire often already have their heart set
on going," the operator, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
"The idea of a bit of danger adds to the thrill and mystery of
Another tour guide, Teng Yi, said that while some may be
deterred by tensions on the Korean peninsula, it was prompting
others to get to North Korea while they still can.
"There have been quite a few tourists in my groups who say
they want to see North Korea in its reclusive state while they
can," he said.
"It won't be the same if the regime collapses."
(Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Tony
Munroe and Bill Tarrant)