Travel Update for the DPRK

As so often happens, North Korea is back dominating the headlines. Most of these stories are based on half-truths or have been completely invented. The media speculation and sensationalism is creating an atmosphere of tension, however, we receive our updates from the relevant official sources and not the media - and these sources have the best up to date information from the ground. At present, the current travel advice has not changed.

Current major headlines include the missile test (true but not extraordinary), the Military Parade (an event that happens annually in one month or another), the movement of US warships (true), journalists being “gathered up” for a secret event (hyperbole) the evacuation of Pyongyang (entirely false), and Chinese tourism to North Korea being cancelled (based on incorrect information).

Whilst it is true that the DPRK did conduct a (failed) missile test - to put into perspective - this has been approximately the 15th test conducted predominantly over the last five years. None of these prior tests have led to actual conflict and it is in no way unexpected or unusual to do so at this time of year. The military parade was held to celebrate the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and is conducted annually. It's not seen as a provocation but part of an internal national celebration.

The movement of the Carl Vinson Carrier strike group was (rightly or wrongly) intended to send a strong message to the North that a conflict of any kind would be imprudent. While some worry that Trump is too much of a wildcard and may act irrationally, congressional approval would be needed before they could launch an attack on the DPRK. Based on discussions between China and the U.S, it is clear the path they intend to take is to enforce sanctions, not begin a military engagement that would be costly and unwelcome at home.

It is also true that there were many journalists present for a ‘secret event’ in Pyongyang. However, they were invited and could freely refuse the invitation if they chose. Further, this ‘secret event’ happened to merely be the opening of a new street. Hardly intimidating.

Finally, the two stories going around that have no basis in fact. Firstly, that 600,000 people had been evacuated from Pyongyang and secondly, that Chinese state tourism agency CITS had ceased tours to North Korea. The first we know is false as we have large groups and multiple staff in the country who have seen no movement of the type, there is no satellite imagery of this mass exodus available and there is no grounding information in the reports. (Evacuated to where? How?) If the article contains no information beyond the headline, it is a good sign it is not true. 

Finally the story about CITS. While it's true that CITS has stopped tours to a Korea, it is not the North, but the South. Reasons why are unclear, and whilst there are theories that we could put forward, we don't believe it responsible to report half truths and rumours.

Pyongyang is not exhibiting any behaviour that can be considered abnormal, rather it is certain elements of the media that are acting erratically. Travel to the DPRK remains unaffected by wild stories in the papers. Inside the country it is calm and people are carrying on as usual. The British Embassy in Pyongyang (whom we stay in frequent contact with) agree with our assessment of the situation - travel to the DPRK is still safe, provided you follow the law, which we inform all our tourists about at great lengths. 

With multiple groups and staff currently in the DPRK whom we are in constant contact with via our office in China, should we receive advice from our consular sources to not enter North Korea or to leave the country, we will do so immediately. We continue to prioritise the safety of all members of our tour groups and facilitate positive cultural exchanges between both the DPRK and our guests travelling with us. 

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