Officials and tourist agencies in at least two Chinese provinces bordering North Korea have clamped down on travel to the neighboring country amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula spurred by Pyongyang’s nuclear threats and provocations, sources said.
The moves were taken by authorities in Yanbian, a Korean autonomous prefecture located along the Tumen River in southeast Jilin province and in Dandong city in Liaoning province.
“Government authorities in Yanbian prefecture have advised Chinese not to visit the cities of Rason or Hoeryong,” two popular destinations in North Korea’s North Hamgyong province,” an employee of a travel agency in Beijing told RFA’s Korean Service this week, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Chinese trading companies have especially been advised not to visit Rason, an ice-free port located on the North Korean coast of the Sea of Japan, or East Sea, said the employee of the agency, which specializes in travel to North Korea.
Yanbian local government authorities took the action shortly after Dandong city authorities suspended a group tour scheduled to visit North Korea, she said.
The restrictions were announced following threats by North Korea to wage a “thermonuclear” strike against the United States and its ally South Korea and amid concerns that the North may soon conduct a missile test.
Foreigners told to leave
North Korea this week urged all foreigners living in South Korea to leave the country, saying it cannot guarantee their safety in the event of war. It had earlier advised foreign diplomatic missions in the North also to leave.
A travel agency employee in Yanbian’s Yanji city confirmed that overland travel to North Korea has now been suspended, and that his agency has canceled all tours scheduled for after April 18.
No restrictions on tourist travel into North Korea have been made by China’s central government or by the North itself, though, sources said.
“I contacted North Korea’s National Tourism Administration on April 9 and 10, and they say there has been no impact on foreign travelers visiting North Korea,” an employee at a Beijing travel agency told RFA this week.
Korea Travel Service and Woori Tour, travel agencies based in Beijing and the U.S., told RFA they have no plans to cancel tours, with groups of over 20 people having already gone into the North on April 9 and 10, and other groups scheduled to enter the country on April 11 and 12.
“I just checked with North Korean and Chinese authorities. Foreign tourists who depart from Beijing can visit North Korea as usual,” a travel agency employee based in Beijing said.
Air raid drill
Authorities in Huichen, a city of 250,000 people in Jilin province, have also staged an air raid drill amid the tensions over Pyongyang's latest threats, Chinese state media reported Friday.
The China News Service said drill participants were shown to underground shelters and the all-clear was sounded 30 minutes later.
CNS quoted the leader of the exercise, Xu Helin, as saying the city plans a series of drills to boost residents' "disaster response abilities," according to the Associated Press.
China is impoverished North Korea's main diplomatic and economic ally but has shown growing irritation with Pyongyang's war threats, and had backed tough U.N. sanctions against the hardline communist neighbor for its defiant nuclear and missile tests.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to the region, said Friday it was up to China to "put some teeth" into efforts to press North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Last Sunday, Chinese President Xi Jinping, without referring to North Korea, warned against any "troublemaking" on his country’s "doorstep."
He told a high-level forum on the southern Chinese island of Hainan that no country should be allowed to sow chaos for selfish gains and called for resolution of any differences between states through "peaceful negotiations."
Reported by Ahreum Jung for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Goeun Yu. Written in English by Richard Finney.