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As Covid cases surged in China, social media posts misleadingly claimed that North Korea joined a string of countries in announcing travel restrictions on visitors from the world’s most populous country. The posts in fact share old travel advice from the Chinese foreign ministry from January 2020, when Pyongyang suspended travel with China in response to the coronavirus outbreak. North Korea watchers said there had been no change to that policy, as of January 2023. Travel agencies operating in North Korea said that entry to the secretive nation was banned for all visitors, not just Chinese nationals.
“After China lifted its entry and exit restrictions, North Korea immediately banned Chinese people from entering the country,” reads a simplified Chinese-language tweet posted on December 28.
“Even North Koreans in China have to quarantine for 30 days when they return to the country.”
The tweet shows a screenshot of a travel advisory that says: “North Korea / Chinese nationals are temporarily prohibited from entering the country, and all recent arrivals, including North Koreans, will be subject to a 30-day quarantine and observation period.”
More than a dozen countries, including the United States, Canada and India, announced travel restrictions on arrivals from China following Beijing’s decision to lift years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing.
Hospitals across China have been overwhelmed by an explosion of infections following the scrapping of its “zero-Covid” policy, which largely kept the virus at bay but tanked the economy and sparked widespread protests.
Old travel advice
Keyword searches of the travel advisory found the identical text in a document on China’s National Immigration Administration’s website.
While the document does not feature a publication date, the same travel advice was published in a Chinese foreign ministry statement on January 30, 2020.
The ministry’s announcement came after North Korea reportedly suspended all flights and trains in and out of the country in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
North Korea watchers said that Pyongyang’s ban on Chinese travellers — as well as arrivals from all other countries — was still in force in January 2023.
Dean J. Ouellettevice director at the Kyungnam University Institute for Far Eastern Studies in South Korea confirmed that North Korea closed its borders to international arrivals, including its own citizens living abroad, from January 2020.
As of January 2023, the British foreign ministry’s travel advice to North Korea says: “All air and train routes into and out of North Korea are temporarily suspended as of 31 January 2020.”
Travel agencies that operate in North Korea said that its borders remained closed to all.
“The current policy is that no one is allowed to enter the country,” an official at China-based Young Pioneer Tours told AFP on January 4.
A representative for Koryo Toursanother Pyongyang-approved China-based travel agency, also dismissed the claim circulating on social media.
“North Korea has been closed to all entrants, including [North] Koreanssince January 2020,” the spokesperson told AFP on January 4.
“This [claim] is irrelevant as nobody can enter the country anyway.”
Nam Sung-wooka professor at Korea University’s department of Korean unification, diplomacy and security, said there were exceptions to North Korea’s travel ban, such as for “a few Chinese drivers” who were allowed to enter the country for business purposes.
North Korea reportedly resumed trade with China in June 2020.
However, Nam told AFP on January 6 that Pyongyang’s ban on international arrivals was still in force.