‘We don’t care’ about US travel ban: North Korean of­fi­cial

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Py­ongyang, North Korea - Wash­ing­ton’s ban on US cit­i­zens trav­el­ling to North Korea will have no ef­fect on the coun­try’s tourism in­dus­try and Py­ongyang does not care about it ‘at all’, a se­nior de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cial in­sisted on Tues­day.

The mea­sure is due to be en­acted this week and once it goes into force US pass­ports will no longer be valid for travel to the iso­lated coun­try, which is sub­ject to mul­ti­ple sets of United Na­tions sanc­tions over its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grammes.

Around 5,000 Western tourists visit the North each year, tour com­pa­nies say, with Amer- icans num­ber­ing about 20 per cent of them. Stan­dard one-week trips cost about US$2,000.

But Han Chol-Su, vice di­rec­tor of the Won­san Zone De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, de­nied that the loss of busi­ness would have any im­pact. “If the US gov­ern­ment says Amer­i­cans can­not come to this coun­try, we don’t care a bit,” he said in Py­ongyang.

Wash­ing­ton an­nounced the move af­ter the death of Otto Warm­bier, the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia stu­dent who was sen­tenced to 15 years’ hard labour in the North for try­ing to steal a pro­pa­ganda poster.

Warm­bier was sent home in a mys­te­ri­ous coma last month - Py­ongyang said he had con­tracted bot­u­lism - and died soon after­wards, prompt­ing US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to de­nounce the ‘bru­tal regime’.

The State Depart­ment has long warned its cit­i­zens against trav­el­ling to North Korea, telling them they are ‘at se­ri­ous risk of ar­rest and long-term de­ten­tion un­der North Korea’s sys­tem of law en­force­ment’, which ‘im­poses un­duly harsh sen­tences for ac­tions that would not be con­sid­ered crimes in the US’.

Han’s or­gan­i­sa­tion is try­ing to pro­mote the Won­san-Mount Kum­gang In­ter­na­tional Tourist Zone, a grandiose vi­sion of a tourism hub on the east coast.

He said Wash­ing­ton’s move was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. “The US has been con­tin­u­ing with sanc­tions against us but we don’t care at all,” he said.

Py­ongyang of­fi­cials con­sis­tently say that sanc­tions against their coun­try have no ef­fect on it.

But ac­cord­ing to tour com­pa­nies busi­ness has al­ready been hit hard by re­cent de­vel­op­ments, in­clud­ing ten­sions over the North’s weapons pro­grammes, with Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials warn­ing that mil­i­tary ac­tion was an op­tion on the ta­ble.

“Cer­tainly, of all the dra­mas that have gone on lately, the Warm­bier is­sue is the big­gest one for tourism,” said Si­mon Cock­erell, gen­eral man­ager of mar­ket leader Ko­ryo Tours which has seen book­ings fall 50 per cent. “It’s de­pressed the mar­ket quite con­sid­er­ably.”

The US de­ci­sion, he said, would hit North Kore­ans work­ing in the tourist sec­tor, and wipe out ‘any pos­si­bil­ity of a hu­man­is­ing hu­man el­e­ment be­tween those two sides who de­monise each other so much’.

Matt Kulesza, of Young Pi­o­neer Tours - the com­pany which brought Warm­bier to the coun­try - said the ban’s ef­fect on the North would be ‘ab­so­lutely noth­ing’. But Amer­i­cans, he added, would lose ‘the free­dom to travel to DPRK (North Korea) and ex­pe­ri­ence the DPRK for them­selves’.

Gleam­ing tow­ers

A pro­mo­tional video for Han’s pro­ject takes in beach re­sorts, the Masikry­ong ski­ing cen­tre, and Mount Kum­gang, renowned through­out the penin­sula for its beauty. It shows the port of Won­san trans­formed into a mass of gleam­ing tow­ers, shop­ping, en­ter­tain­ment and trade districts, served by mul­ti­ple trans­port links in­clud­ing a dual car­riage­way with four lanes in each di­rec­tion - a far cry from the bumpy pot­holed road with un­lit tun­nels that cur­rently links it to Py­ongyang.

Air routes from China, Rus­sia and Ja­pan are also dis­played, but no regular in­ter­na­tional flights have so far been sched­uled to Won­san’s newly-built air­port.

In 2015, said Han’s col­league Ri Ky­ong-Chol, there had been ne­go­ti­a­tions to start di­rect flights to Bei­jing and Shang­hai. But ‘since then, be­cause of po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances, the par­tic­i­pants of the other side balked’. The vast ma­jor­ity of for­eign tourists to North Korea are Chi­nese.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Oman

© PressReader. All rights reserved.