In a first since pandemic, North Korean flight lands in Beijing ending Pyongyang’s global isolation

After years of isolation from the world due to COVID pandemic, North Korea is slowly opening its border to the world. A North Korean commercial flight took off from Beijing on Tuesday. 

The Russian-made Air Koryo Tupelev Tu-204 jet with capacity for 210 passengers reportedly landed in Beijing early on Tuesday. Later, it was filmed taking off shortly after 1:30 p.m. local time, reported AP.

 There has been no information on who was the in the flight, but it is expected that it would on return carry back North Koreans who had been trapped in China by the years because of border closure, reported Reuters’ Sophie Yu and Josh Smith.

Other than this flight, a few Russian and Chinese government officials flew to Pyongyang last month. Last week, buses carrying North Korean athletes to a taekwondo tournament in Kazakhstan crossed the border into China.

All this shows that North Korea is slowly reopening for the world. There has also been a resumption of Cargo trains and ship traffic over the past year, but North Korea has only just begun to allow some international passenger travel.

Koreans first

Air Koryo has also scheduled flights to Vladivostok on Friday, reported the international news agency. Notably, this would be its first flights to Russia post pandemic. After the partial resumption of the route, priority will be given to Koreans who were stuck overseas due to closing of borders.

“This flight isn’t a full resumption of the route yet, it is a special flight for Koreans only to take people home again after years being stuck overseas,” said Simon Cockerell, general manager at Beijing-based Koryo Tours. “The same as the flights that seem likely to happen soon from Vladivostok.” “It’s all happening, but for Koreans first, the rest of us…later,” he said.

Since the beginning of COVID pandemic, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has further fortified the country to ensure a complete isolation from the world in terms of news and information. He has built hundreds of kilometers (miles) or upgraded border fences, walls and guard posts since the pandemic began.

Due to stringent isolation, many foreign delegations closed their embassies in Pyongyang because they were unable to rotate staff or ship in supplies for much of the pandemic.

One diplomat for a Western country that pulled its staff from its embassy in Pyongyang said there was no official word from North Korean officials on when they could return.

“We expect a gradual opening with ‘friendly’ countries first, so we may be a bit down the list,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

Before the pandemic hit the nation, Russia and China were estimated to host around 20,000 North Koreans each, according to a report by the Association of Asian Studies. Since the end of 2019, U.N. Security Council resolutions have required that all countries deport North Korean workers, but many remain in China, Russia, and other countries. Flight operations between China and North Korea received approval from the former. 

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Updated: 22 Aug 2023, 03:33 PM IST

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