TAIPEI. Taking a vacation in North Korea? Now you can. In short, obviously the procedures for entering the most armored country in the world are anything but simple. But at least, no longer impossible. In fact, for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pyongyang has begun to allow entry to foreigners. On the other hand, Kim Jong-un himself cleared the “trespassing” after traveling to the Russian Far East for his recent summit with Vladimir Putin. And now therefore the supreme leader has decided to welcome foreign visitors back after almost four years of total blockade. North Korea has refused not only entry of people from abroad, but even goods and vaccines, increasing the risk that its far from innovative medical systems could be overwhelmed by the virus.
The news of the reopening was previewed by CCTV, China’s state television. On the other hand, China itself is the only crossing point from which it is possible to enter North Korea, via rail. Visitors will have to quarantine for two days once they cross the border, and then be “free” to wander around Pyongyang and its surroundings. Free is obviously a big word when it comes to North Korea, given that tourists are still forced to follow guides who take them around and inspect them on sight at any time during their stay in the country.
The signs that a reopening could be achieved came from the invitation to delegations from China and Russia at the end of July and beginning of September for the 75th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War in one case and of the founding of the country in the other. Also at the end of July, the US soldier Travis King also crossed the border, but in this case through the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. A desertion. In recent weeks, the North Korean government has also reopened cross-border trade with the People’s Republic of China. Kim’s decision to close the borders curbed what little trade North Korea was able to conduct. The contraction has left the economy smaller than when Kim took power more than a decade ago, the Bank of Korea in Seoul estimates.
Tourists from places like China have in the past been an important source of foreign currency for North Korea, which is plagued by chronic liquidity problems. The reopening will however be gradual. Chinese tour operators who are usually busy organizing trips to North Korea have not yet relaunched their offers. Of course, the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula might not exactly be the best way to attract foreigners curious to set foot in the so-called “hermit kingdom.”