This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Sources in China alleged last week that Chinese authorities are forcing government employees to take tours to North Korea several times per year, as part of an initiative to improve Sino-Korean friendship and provide Pyongyang with economic assistance.
The government employees are complaining about the initiative, which is said to be on orders from President Xi Jinping, who in June traveled to North Korea and met Kim Jong Un.
A Chinese citizen of Korean descent from Hunchun, in Jilin province’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, told RFA’s Korean Service that the mandatory tours started in July of this year.
“Not only government employees but also teachers of schools and kindergartens were required to tour North Korea,” said the source.
The source said that Xi’s push for North Korea tourism was birthed during his trip to Pyongyang in June.
“As soon as President Xi returned from his visit, he ordered government officials to take trips to North Korea. At the June summit, Xi and Kim came to an agreement and Xi ordered everyone to ‘help North Korea with tours to the North’,” the source said.
“Chinese government employees are extremely dissatisfied with the orders, [and hate] going on these compulsory tours to North Korea, which have already started,” said the source.
“The officials from Jilin and Liaoning provinces, both of which border North Korea, are taking tours to North Korea in groups,” the source said.
The source said that Chinese people dislike the idea of propping up North Korea through tourism.
“China’s Communist Party leadership [wants to] strengthen Sino-North Korean relations and friendship, but most Chinese have a bad view of [this strategy]. People think that there is no need to help the North Korean economy, [especially] when doing so invites international criticism,” the source said.
Nothing to see here
“These days, school faculty and kindergarten teachers in the Hunchun area are also rushing to go on mandatory tours to North Korea, but there are only treeless mountains and dry barren fields in North Korea’s Rason area, [the special economic zone where the tours are taking them],” said the source.
“When it becomes cold, who would want to spend money to go to North Korea? What are they paying to see?”
Another Chinese citizen of Korean descent, from Yanji, the seat of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, said that faculty in schools are being mobilized to take trips to North Korea.
“Kindergarten teachers are busy planning to visit North Korea [sometime] this year,” said the second source.
Tours from Yianbian to North Korea are not prohibitively expensive, according to the second source.
“A one-day tour to North Korea from [Yianbian] along the border with Russia is available for only 200 to 500 Chinese yuan ($28.10-$70.26). However, on that tour travelers can go to the beaches of Rason and also catch a glimpse of the Russian seacoast,” said the second source, adding that travelers on that tour are extremely restricted.
“They are blocked from local neighborhood areas of North Korea,” said the second source.