N. Korea officially opens borders for first time since January 2020

Posted on : 2023-08-28 15:55 KST Modified on : 2023-08-28 15:55 KST
North Koreans abroad have been allowed to return home, a state-run newspaper reported
North Koreans wait for Air Koryo flight JS151 between Beijing and Pyongyang on Aug. 26, the first flight of the route in three years and seven months. (Yonhap)
North Koreans wait for Air Koryo flight JS151 between Beijing and Pyongyang on Aug. 26, the first flight of the route in three years and seven months. (Yonhap)

After closing its national borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea has officially approved the return of its residents from overseas.

This reopening of borders comes three years and seven months after the January 2020 declaration of a transition into a national emergency disease control system, which suspended all international air, train, and ocean travel into North Korea.

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported Sunday on an announcement the day before by the State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters (SEEPH), which stated, “DPRK citizens abroad have been allowed to return home, according to the decision of the SEEPH of the DPRK to adjust the anti-epidemic degree in reference to the eased worldwide pandemic situation.”

“Those returned will be put under proper medical observation at quarantine wards for a week,” it added.

On Aug. 22, 24, and 26, North Korean citizens residing in China traveled from Beijing to Pyongyang on flights by Air Koryo, North Korea’s state-run airline. These appear to have been the “citizens abroad” referred to as having been “allowed to return home” in the Rodong Sinmun article.

On Aug. 21, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “In the process of shifting to the summer-autumn schedules of 2023, China approved in accordance with relevant procedures the DPRK’s Air Koryo’s application for scheduled Pyongyang-Beijing-Pyongyang flights.”

With North Korea adjusting its disease prevention level and officially declaring the return of citizens abroad, observers are expecting more civilian interchange and the returns of workers, diplomatic officials, and others currently staying in China and Russia.

“Judging from this measure, it looks as though North Korea has restored things in many respects to the way things were before the disease prevention measures,” said Hong Min, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

“In trade terms, the opening of national borders can be seen as meaning the opening of private commerce,” he added.

“This makes various forms of private commerce possible, starting with peddling activities, and we can expect diplomatic activities by the North Korean government to resume once the diplomats arrive,” he predicted.

North Korea previously loosened some of its disease prevention measures in July, when it lifted a national mask-wearing mandate. Delegations from Russia and China visited for the “Victory Day” holiday (armistice anniversary) on July 27, while the reopening of flights to Vladivostok and Beijing prompted ongoing speculation that the borders would soon be reopened.

It is also seen as increasingly likely that North Korea will send a large squad to the Asian Games in Hangzhou this September.

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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