In what could be a significant financial blow to Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime, China ordered an immediate halt to Chinese tourism to the reclusive state one day prior to President Trump’s arrival as a part of his Indo-Pacific tour.
A number of tourism companies based out of the Chinese city Dandong, which shares a border with North Korea, offer multiple day trips into North Korea, accounting for some eighty percent of North Korea’s $44 million in annual tourism-based revenue.
“It was very unexpected, we had no idea this was going to happen until we received the notification today,” one Chinese tour operator who runs trips to North Korea out of Dandong told Reuters. “This is devastating news for us.”
Although trips to North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang are no longer permitted, the order does allow for single day trips into North Korea’s directly adjacent city of Sinuiju, which remains a popular tourist destination for Chinese citizens. North Korean trips out of other, less heavily trafficked Chinese cities, are also still permitted.
The gesture may be intended to help ease negotiations between the American and Chinese presidents, who have been discussing a variety of international issues beyond the risk North Korea poses to the U.S. and its allies, including a trade deal the two presidents signed on Wednesday worth a reported $250 billion. However, not all Chinese residents are convinced that the tourism ban will stick.
“It’s much more likely to be connected to increasing sanctions against North Korea. We’ll have to wait and see what happens once Trump leaves China. Maybe they will loosen the rules, but it’s very hard to say. This is all connected to the growing tensions,” said one tourism business owner out of Dandong.
If the effort was indeed intended to warm relations with the American president that campaigned on a platform that included statements like, “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing. It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world,” it may have worked, as Trump’s rhetoric regarding Chinese trade has shifted dramatically since those days on the campaign trail.
“Who can blame a country for being able taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?” Trump said in China standing beside President Xi. “I give China great credit,” he added. “In actuality, I do blame past administrations for allowing this trade deficit to take place and grow.”
Whether or not the tourism ban, or Trump’s willingness to offer absolution to Chinese officials for the state of trade between the two states will last, is yet to be determined. Although President Trump has been consistently critical of the Chinese government for taking advantage of the United States, he has also been vocal in his criticism of previous administrations for permitting it to happen. China’s relationship with North Korea, however, remains questionable. As North Korea’s largest trade partner, China possesses the ability to strangle funding from Kim Jong Un’s weapons programs in a way no other nation can, but remains reluctant to do so, in what seems to many to be a tentative form of continued support for Kim’s regime.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press.