In the midst of possible talks between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, the number of tourists from traveling across the border from China to North Korea has increased dramatically. Interest in the nation of 25 million has risen as Chinese tourists seek to learn more about the embattled Korean republic before the country potentially opens its doors to the West.
A tourism official from China’s Jilin province stated that approximately 20,000 Chinese citizens had traveled from Jilin to North Korea in 2017. The humber is expected to jump by 40 percent this year. American officials, however, advise US tourists against wandering into the country, pointing to the case of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was arrested in North Korea, and subsequently suffered a brain injury and died while in prison. In September 2017, the State Department banned American citizens from traveling to North Korea as a result of the “serious and mounting risk” that they could be arrested.
Last April, a tour bus veered off a bridge in North Hwanghae province, which resulted in the death of 32 Chinese nationals, who were visiting the neighboring nation, as well as four North Koreans. Tourists from China, which is Kim Jong-un’s main political ally, account for 80% of foreign visitors to North Korea. It is estimated that roughly 100,000 foreign citizens visit the republic each year, a tiny amount compared to the nearly 60 million people that visit China annually.
Restrictions in North Korea are imposed tourists, who must be escorted by government employees at all times when stepping outside their hotels. Foreign tourist agencies warn that any type of disrespect towards the nation or its leaders is regarded as a severe offense.
Chinese citizens do have some special privileges in North Korea, such as being able to use their own mobile phones, though they must use a North Korean SIM card or else they are unable to make or receive calls. Also, there are two casinos in the country for Chinese tourists – the Emperor Hotel & Casino in Rason and the Pyongyang Casino in the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang – even though gambling is prohibited for North Korean nationals. As of 2016, Chinese tourists are able to remain in North Korea for up to six months.
As for visitors from other nations, Carl Meadows, a specialist on North Korean travel from Regent Holidays in the UK, says, “Interestingly, there is usually a spike in bookings when a negative story brings North Korea to our national attention. North Korea holidays are perfect for pioneering tourists yearning to break the mould and engage in a truly unique holiday experience. Those with a smidgen of interest in politics will be fascinated by the propaganda and the totalitarian nature of life here while learning about how the country came to be at politicised landmarks such as the DMZ.”