North Korea is poised to welcome its first group of tourists since sealing its borders in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, hinting at a potential thaw that might extend to a soccer match against Japan’s national women’s team.
In February, a contingent of Russian tourists is anticipated to embark on a trip encompassing Pyongyang and a ski resort, as announced by Koryo Tours, a prominent North Korean travel agency. The four-day excursion, organized by the government of Russia’s Far East region of Primorsky Krai and a Vladivostok-based travel agency, is priced starting at $750, according to specialist service NK News.
Koryo Tours, not involved in the arrangement, expressed cautious optimism, stating on its website, “It may signal an opening in due course to other tourists, or may not. We wait and see!”
Following the planned tourist arrival, Japan’s women’s team is scheduled to engage in a qualifying match for the Paris Olympics at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Stadium on Feb. 24. However, the potential relocation of the match to a neutral site due to political considerations remains a possibility, given North Korea’s historical tensions with Japan.
In September, North Korea had declared its decision to allow foreigners into the country, as reported by China’s state broadcaster CCTV. While there is no immediate confirmation from North Korea’s state media, the move suggests a gradual relaxation of border restrictions, following earlier allowances for high-level delegations from China and Russia in July of the previous year.
Kim Jong Un’s government has been gradually easing border constraints, facilitating visits from China and Russia in July and sending commercial flights to Beijing and Vladivostok in August to repatriate stranded diplomats, students, and workers. Tourists, particularly from China and Russia, have traditionally been vital for North Korea’s foreign currency influx, enabling international transactions amidst banking isolation.
For several months, the United States and other nations have consistently accused North Korea of providing arms to assist President Vladimir Putin in his campaign against Ukraine. This alleged support has potentially paved the way for streams of aid from Moscow that could bolster Kim Jong Un’s regime.