North Korea Loosens Border Restrictions, Allows Foreigner Entry for First Time Since 2020
A Break in Isolation: Foreign Nationals Allowed Entry
North Korea has reportedly decided to permit limited entry of foreign nationals for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This move ends a longstanding embargo on most outsiders entering the country for reasons such as business, travel, or non-essential diplomatic relations. While the change in policy was initially reported by Chinese state media, there has been no official confirmation from North Korea itself.
The specifics of North Korea’s new border entry policy are yet to be clarified. This is not surprising, given the country’s history of stringent scrutiny of foreigners and extensive bans on international travel. North Korea has been grappling with numerous difficulties in fully reopening since the onset of the pandemic, primarily due to limited resources and infrastructure to effectively manage the health crisis.
Return of North Korean Elites: Signs of Easing Restrictions
In a significant development, groups of North Korean elites living abroad have started returning to the country. This became possible after the country’s airlines resumed regular services to China and Russia, marking the first such flights in several years. North Korea’s state airline, Air Koryo, now operates three flights per week from Pyongyang to Beijing. The inaugural flight had few inbound travelers but returned to North Korea with approximately 400 North Korean nationals who had been in China during the pandemic lockdowns. Additionally, a commercial North Korean flight landed in Vladivostok, Russia, and then returned to North Korea with passengers on board.
Implications for International Relations and Pandemic Response
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently concluded a six-day trip to Russia, during which he was gifted some explosive weaponry. The reopening of travel and the acceptance of select foreign nationals could mark a significant shift in North Korea’s approach to international relations and its pandemic response. However, the absence of official confirmation from North Korea and the lack of clarity on the new border entry policy’s specifics require careful monitoring of the situation.
It is crucial to place these developments within the broader context of North Korea’s stringent and often opaque policies. The country has remained one of the most repressive in the world, curtailing basic liberties and maintaining a tight grip on its populace. The existing restrictions on communication, movement, and information have intensified due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making North Korea more isolated than ever before.
Looking Forward: A Cautious Approach
While the recent developments indicate a potential easing of North Korea’s stringent border restrictions, it is vital to maintain a cautious and informed approach. The country’s history of strict control over its citizens and the lack of transparency in its policies necessitate careful and continuous monitoring. The exact implications of the recent policy change, the extent to which restrictions will be eased, and the impact on North Korea’s international relations and internal affairs remain to be seen.
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