by Nicola Smith, The Telegraph, July 21, 2017
Americans hankering for a drink at the Pyongyang beer festival or to run the city marathon in October are set to be sorely disappointed by a proposed US government ban on tourism to North Korea.
The ban, which is expected to come into force next Thursday, follows the death of US student Otto Warmbier, 22, who was arrested during a 2015 holiday in the pariah state, and who passed away in June after returning from his North Korean prison in a coma.
News of the new restrictions was first confirmed on Friday by Young Pioneer Tours, the China-based company who arranged Warmbier’s tour.
“It is expected that the ban will come into force within 30 days of July 27th. After the 30 day grace period any US national that travels to North Korea will have their passport invalidated by their government,” announced YPT in a short statement.
The Koryo Group, another major travel company operating in North Korea followed suit. It said that the move was expected but still “something of a shock”, apologising to customers who had planned a trip already.
US officials later confirmed that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had decided to impose “geographic travel restriction” for North Korea, a rare ruling which has previously prevented US citizens from travelling to Lebanon, Sudan, Cuba and North Vietnam.
Koryo’s Beijing-based general manager, Simon Cockerell, criticised the policy for turning back the clock on engagement.
“It is unfortunate because we criticise North Korea for being isolationist and now we’re helping isolate them,” he said. “That’s not what soft power is about.”
But while the restrictions will impact the business of tour groups, only 800-1000 Americans are likely to be affected.
Michael Hurt, a Seoul-based American professor said that the announcement would kibosh his pre-approved academic trip to the autumn Pyongyang Fashion Festival, where he had hoped to connect with North Koreans on cultural issues.
“I’m obviously very disappointed that real work, actual engagement done by people interested in going in a way not related to irresponsible, frat boy antics can’t happen now,” he said.
“Because of the exceptionally stupid few, those doing real, decent work can’t get their work done.”
However, the move is unlikely to meet much resistance in general from the American public.
Following Warmbier’s death, YPT faced accusations of drunken antics and being too cavalier about the risks of travelling to the ruthless regime, which currently holds three other Americans in custody.
The company denied the accusations and defended its record as “one of the best in the industry.”
Professor Kelly said the ban was no surprise. "The number of abductions and hostage-takings seems to have gone up since Kim Jong-un took over," he said.
"For the last several years I have counselled my western friends not to go. It's just too dangerous now."