China is increasing the number of its tourists visiting North Korea despite authorities attempting to enforce a limit of 1,000 people per day, NK News reported Wednesday.
Sources within the North Korean tourist industry told NK News that around 1,600 Chinese tourists visited the joint security area (JSA) within the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on May 19th, almost doubling the highest one-day total recorded last year during the North’s September 9th Foundation Day holiday.
The tourists arrived in the area, which marks operates as a buffer zone between North and South Korea, on a total of 72 buses from the early morning. “The busiest day I’ve ever seen at the DMZ,” the source said. “And it’s becoming the norm.”
Simon Cockerill, a tour manager for the North Korean tourist company Koryo Tours, told the outlet that “every day there are armies of Chinese tourists” coming to visit the DMZ. “If we have tourists going there from Pyongyang in the morning, we simply have them leave earlier than the Chinese groups to get there first and then not get stuck in the line,” he said.
Elliott Davies from Uri Tours also provided similar figures, saying that “at this time, there are between 1000 and 2000 Chinese tourists visiting the DMZ each day.”
Chinese tourists have always had easier access to North Korea than Westerners, mainly as a result of the country’s geographical proximity and close diplomatic relations. Chinese authorities have at various times banned citizens from entering North Korea, but Beijing is generally supportive of the country expanding its tourist industry, even helping the regime to open a travel agency in Taiwan in defiance of U.N. sanctions.
Although overall tourist numbers have fluctuated over recent years due to political instability, figures appear to be dramatically rising amid peace negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea. In April, nearly 1,000 Westerners attended the annual Pyongyang Marathon, twice as many as last year, while other tourist sites are reporting significant rises in people. However, American citizens remain prohibited from traveling the country unless they receive a special permit that considers their visit to the country “within in the national interest.”
Communist dictator Kim Jong-un reportedly has large ambitions for his country’s tourist industry, despite the risk that it may expose the North Korean population to external influences. His plans have seemingly been endorsed by President Donald Trump, who appeared the fact that profits from tourism would likely be used to strengthen the communist regime and continue the widespread repression of the North Korean people.
“You could have the best hotels in the world right there,” Trump said following his meeting with Kim Jong-un last year. “Think of it from a real estate perspective. You have South Korea, you have China, and they own the land in the middle. How bad is that, right? It’s great.”