Will the new Chinese vaccine policy affect travel to North Korea? The very short answer to this is no it will not, or rather it is extremely unlikely that it will.
“China’s new domestic vaccine mandate could devastate future North Korea travel”
China’s new domestic vaccine mandate could devastate future North Korea travel, was the headline from the respected NK News published on 18th of March, 2021. Although with it being behind a pay-wall, it means that most people have simply read the headline and made their conclusions from that.
We have had many people reach out to us and post in our groups wanting clarity on the matter as most readers concluded that no tourist will ever travel to North Korea again. Now at face value this might look like the case, the reality though is somewhat different.
What is the Chinese policy on letting in vaccinated people?
As of March 15th 2021, a number of Chinese embassies stated that people who had been inoculated using one of the Chinese made vaccines could “apply for visas normally”. This directly translates to as they would have applied before the pandemic.
It should be noted that this specifically referred to certain classes of visa, such as business and family reunification, rather than a blanket opening of the country. This point should be well noted, as it gives extra context. China has not completely opened to people that have had the Chinese vaccine. China has not yet opened to tourism.
Is China only letting in people that have had the Chinese vaccine?
It is completely true and where this story gets its legs from. China is only allowing people to apply for visas that have been vaccinated using the Chinese made vaccine. Yes, this does mean that as things stand if you have been vaccinated in the UK, or USA for example then you cannot currently apply for a Chinese visa.
What is the context to this?
Most of the countries using Chinese made vaccines, that have already begun vaccination are in South East and East Asia. This has allowed China to begin experimenting with its own vaccine passport for outbound travel, as well as testing allowing a limited number of vaccinated people from Asia into China. For all intents China have created a small travel corridor as a trial to see how things go.
Will China recognize other vaccines in the future and if so when?
No one knows if, or indeed when China will recognize other vaccines, but we can look at the evidence in front of us and make some fairly sound judgements.
Last month China announced that they would be making a travel/vaccine passport (which has since happened). A vaccine passport will only work with mutual recognition. It has been suggested by many in both China and the USA that due to the fast pace of vaccinations in the USA that travel might open between the two countries as early as September. This is currently just theoretical, but with the huge business done between the two countries, also something that will occur at some time at least.
You can read more details about the Chinese vaccine passport here.
Secondly and perhaps most importantly is the concept of reciprocity. If and it is a huge IF China were to not allow anyone in the country who had not had a Chinese made vaccine then two things would happen. They would close their economy to other countries in the world, and more importantly also close the door to Chinese citizens traveling to these countries. Quite simply the UK will not allow in Chinese nationals if the Chinese don’t allow in British nationals. Unless China plans to move back to policies not seen since Pu Yi sat on the Chinese throne. In short it’s incredibly unlikely.
What is the North Korean policy on opening to tourism?
North Korea have stated they will not open to tourism until there was a vaccine. Now, there is a vaccine. Contextually it would be right to assume that they do not intend to open to tourism until their population has also been vaccinated. North Korea is currently receiving 1.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine with more on the way.
We also know that North Korea were the first to close their borders, we can thus surmise that they may well be one of the last to reopen them. It should be remembered that they previously closed for 5 months over the Ebola virus.
Will the new Chinese vaccine policy affect travel to North Korea?
Taking everything into account there are only two scenarios that would have any effect on North Korean tourism, let alone “devastate North Korean travel”.
North Korea vaccinates its citizens within the next few months and opens to tourism, in this scenario the only tourists that would be allowed in would be those that had had the Chinese vaccine. This would open North Korea to China, its biggest source of tourism revenue. North Korea vaccinating their 24 million citizens and reopening to tourism within the next few months is extremely unlikely. Bear in mind China has not yet opened to tourism. It has only opened their borders to business visitors and family members.
The second scenario is that China retains their policy and only allows people that have had the Chinese vaccine enter the country and thus because China is the primary gateway to travel into North Korea, North Korea must do the same. The scenario not only goes against what the world are saying, but relies on China closing itself to the world. Again, an almost impossible scenario.
China is also not the only route into North Korea
The other elephant in the room on this story is that China, whilst most definitely the biggest and most popular route into North Korea is not the only route into the country.
In normal times there are two weekly flights between Vladivostok and Pyongyang on Air Koryo. There is a long border between Russia and North Korea and even a direct train that will take you all the way from Moscow to Pyongyang.
This also ignores the fact that there have in the past been direct and scheduled flights to the country from places as diverse as Kuwait City and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Granted these are not running now, but should this very hypothetical scenario occur, it is very likely that Air Koryo and the National Tourism Authority would look for other flight routes.
When will North Korea open to tourism then?
There’s no definite answer for now but YPT and our North Korean partners are looking at borders possibly reopening at the end of 2021 or early 2022. Whilst the recent Chinese news has been painted in a negative light, it is essentially very good news for North Korean tourism. Without an open China there is no North Korean tourism, it is that simple.
We can now see that China are taking small cautious steps in opening the country to the wider world, and that vaccinations are the key to the world reopening to tourism again.
Will the new Chinese vaccine policy affect travel to North Korea? In this respect when looking at when North Korea will open to tourism, watch what is happening first in North Korea. When that is clear then look at what is happening in China, or Russia.