Pyongyang tightly restricts travel by its citizens, but it is giving away free trips to ethnic Koreans who hold Chinese citizenship and Chinese living in North Korea in a move that is angering some of the closed nation’s populace who long for a vacation in the capital, RFA has learned.
“North Korean residents wish to tour Pyongyang once in their lifetime,” a source in the North Korean capital told RFA’s Korea Service. “North Korean residents are outraged because the central authority disregards its own residents and provides free tourism only to Chinese and Korean-Chinese.”
Officially the North Korean government says the free vacations are a thank you for the help the Chinese and ethnic North Koreans living in China gave the country after deadly floods inundated the Tumen River valley this past summer.
“North Korea is going to hold a commemoration event in Pyongyang for Chinese people living in North Korea,” a source from North Pyongan province told RFA. “The justification for this event is to express gratitude to the Chinese community who supported restoration of flood damage in Tumen River valley.”
The North Pyongan source told RFA that many ethnic Korean Chinese hurried back from Dandong, China to give aid to the North Koreans as they struggled to recover from the floods that ripped through the Tumen River valley as Typhoon Lionrock lashed Northeast Asia from August 29 to September 2.
The floods so devastated the area that Pyongyang asked the international community for aid.
The North Korean government said more than 130 people were killed and nearly 400 went missing after the floods. Local sources told RFA at the time that the North Koreans were underestimating the damage.
“Many Chinese who live in Ryongchon County came back from Dandong, China after receiving an urgent instruction to advance their schedule,” said the North Pyongan source.
While the North Korean government is saying the free trips that include stops at the North Korean Central Zoo, Street of Future Scientists, Juche Tower, Okryugwan (restaurant) and International Friendship Exhibition are a thank you for the help, locals see a more nefarious reason.
The local sources said that North Korea is trying to curry China’s favor with the free trips, adding that it is not the first time that Pyongyang has used the lure of tourism to help cement ties with Beijing, because the country throws a celebration for Chinese every year.
The 2016 event is different because it is bigger as Pyongyang is giving away trips to the Chinese.
“This year there are more visits from Korean-Chinese than in previous years,” a source in Pyongyang told RFA.
While some Chinese and many North Koreans see Pyongyang as a desirable vacation spot, the source emphasized its value to the government as a propaganda tool.
“The central authority assigns each branch of the General Association of Korean- Chinese to organize free tourism to promote its system’s supremacy and possibility of future growth,” the source said.
Reported for RFA’s Korea Service by Jieun Kim. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.