In his New Year speech and press conference, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has kept expressing his intention to allow South Koreans to travel to North Korea. The Dong-A Ilbo recently reported major Chinese travel agencies and they said North Korea has not taken any relevant steps. The travel agencies would play a key role if Pyongyang decides to remove travel bans on South Korean citizens. With no signs of change from the North, most of the travel agencies have not made any adjustments, they added.
“We would take South Korean tourists to North Korea if the policy changes, but the change has yet to be made,” said a travel agency in Shenyang, China. “Currently, we cannot send people with South Korean passport to the North.” A travel agency based in Beijing said, “Although we understand South Korean policies, it can only wait and see how it would turn out because it is still in discussion.” Another Chinese travel agency said it had no plans in regards to this issue because everything is uncertain. This indicates that even these travel agencies that will serve as an important intermediary have not noticed any changes made by Pyongyang.
When asked about the safety of South Korean tourists traveling to North Korea, they just repeated, “North Korea is a safe country.” “You would not eat pork if you go to India. The same goes to North Korea. You are safe as long as you follow their rules,” said the agency in Shenyang. Another travel agency went as far as to say North Korea is extremely safe as long as tourists respect its law and culture. These remarks reflect their views that no additional safety measures would be needed for South Korean tourists.
Despite silence from Pyongyang and safety concerns of South Korean tourists, the South Korean Ministry of Unification has reaffirmed its commitment to its plan. “The ministry is examining the possibility of allowing South Korean citizens to travel to North Korea to promote people-to-people exchange between the two Koreas,” said ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min on Wednesday. “The government will continue to closely examine the safety issue.“
There are increasing concerns over the safety, however, with more people pointing out how dangerous traveling to North Korea can be as freedom is limited. Alek Sigley, an Australian student who was briefly detained in Pyongyang last year, wrote for the January issue of “North Korea Monthly.” According to him, foreign tourists need to be accompanied by two guides when going out of the hotel and foreign students cannot even go to stores and restaurants, let alone freely wandering around the streets, adding that there is not so much foreign tourists can do in the country.
Gi-Jae Han firstname.lastname@example.org