MS Risk Blog

North Korea Responds to US Travel Ban

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Just days after the United States banned travel for Americans to North Korea, with the ban due to take effect on 1 September 2017, North Korea has criticized Washington’s decision, with state media describing the move on Friday 4 August as a “sordid” attempt to limit human exchanges.

Citing an unidentified spokesman for the foreign ministry, the North’s KCNA news agency reported that there was no reason for foreigners to feel threatened while in North Korea and that citizens from around the world were encouraged to visit. The spokesman stated “our doors are always open for all Americans who visit our country out of good will and wish to see our reality.”

Earlier this month, the US State Department announced that the ban would take effect on 1 September, noting however that some, including journalists and humanitarian workers, would be able to apply for exceptions. The ban will effectively make reclusive North Korea the only country to which US citizens are banned from travelling. The move follows the death in June of US student Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced last year in North Korea to fifteen years’ hard labour for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda sign from his hotel. Mr Warmbier was in a coma when he was released by the North on humanitarian grounds. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.

In Friday’s report, while KCNA did not specifically name Mr Warmbier, it stated that the North had delivered “just punishment” to some US citizens who had carried out acts against the regime. According to the spokesman, “there is no country in the world that would let foreigners who commit this sort of crime be,” adding “ruling criminals by the law is exercising our confident right as a sovereign state.” The report further disclosed that the ban reflects Washington’s view of Pyongyang as an enemy and reiterated that US President Donald Trump’s administration should abandon its hostile policies towards the North.

Republican US Representative Joe Wilson, who introduced the bill to ban Americans from travelling to North Korea this year, has stated that hundreds of Americans are amongst the roughly 4,000 to 5,000 Western tourists who visit the North each year. North Korea is currently hold two Korean-American academics and a missionary in addition to a Canadian pastor and three South Korean nationals who were doing missionary work.