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NUKEWARS
S.Korea tourist numbers plummet in China boycott
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) April 25, 2017


Air China resumes N. Korea flights after speculation
Beijing (AFP) April 25, 2017 - Air China has resumed flights to the North Korean capital after their temporary suspension sparked speculation that Beijing was pressuring Pyongyang to curb its nuclear and missile programmes.

Flights between Beijing and Pyongyang every Monday and Friday on China's flag carrier will restart on May 5, an Air China customer service representative told AFP Tuesday.

State broadcaster CCTV had previously reported that the route was "suspended" as of April 17, raising questions about whether the move was politically motivated.

"The route was never eliminated, just temporarily cancelled due to ticket sales," said the Air China employee, noting that the airline would continue to monitor demand when determining future flight arrangements.

Air China is the only foreign carrier operating regular commercial flights to North Korea.

Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang last week distanced China's government from the decision to temporarily halt flights, calling it purely "market-based."

Tensions have soared in recent months as North Korean missile tests have brought ever-more bellicose warnings from US President Donald Trump's administration.

The US has long pushed for China, the North's only major ally and biggest trade partner, to make more efforts to curb its behaviour.

But Beijing has resisted, concerned that a regime collapse could trigger a flood of refugees across the border and leave the US military on its doorstep.

However in February China announced it was halting all imports of coal from North Korea -- a crucial earner for Pyongyang -- for the rest of the year.

"The steps we're seeing China take, in many ways unprecedented steps, bringing economic pressure to bear on North Korea are very welcome," US Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday.

"We do believe China can do more."

South Korea's tourist industry has been hammered by China's boycott over the deployment of US missile defence system, with visitor numbers from the Asian giant plummeting 40 percent in March, statistics showed.

Beijing banned Chinese tour groups from visiting the South from March 15 in a spat over the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

Washington and Seoul say it is for purely defensive purposes, but Beijing fears it could undermine its own nuclear deterrent and has reacted with fury, imposing a series of measures seen as economic retaliation.

Normally more than half of tourists to the South are from China, but little more than 360,000 visited last month, compared to just over 600,000 a year earlier.

Total visitor numbers fell 11.2 percent year-on-year to 1.23 million, the state Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) said.

The falls in tourism from China have also dealt a blow to duty-free shops in South Korea, with Chinese customers accounting for 70 percent of their total sales, a Lotte spokeswoman said.

Lotte Duty Free has seen sales to Chinese customers fall 40 percent on-year since the group tour ban in mid-March.

The South Korean retail giant has had to shut down 85 of its 99 stores in China due to boycott calls after the group agreed to provide a golf course in South Korea as a site for THAAD.

Its accumulated losses as a result are reportedly expected to hit $1 billion in the first half of this year alone.

South Korea has been struggling to fill the gap with promotion campaigns to attract more visitors from other countries, mainly from Japan and those in Southeast Asia.

But rising regional tensions over the nuclear-armed North have nipped in the bud an increase in the number of Japanese travellers.

Yonhap news agency said a tourism ministry tally showed Japanese visitors rising some 20 percent year-on-year up to early April, but the growth rate fell to between two and three percent after tensions spiked.

"Japanese tourists are putting off their trips to this country, apparently because of overblown Japanese media reports about tensions on the Korean peninsula," Yonhap quoted a KTO official as saying.

China slashes N. Korea imports, holds exports steady
Beijing (AFP) April 25, 2017 - Chinese imports from North Korea fell 35 percent month-on-month in March, according to official figures released Tuesday, after Beijing suspended coal purchases to punish its nuclear-armed neighbour for missile tests.

Total imports from the North by China -- Pyongyang's sole major diplomatic ally and chief trading partner -- stood at $114.56 million last month, down from 176.7 million in February, according to Chinese customs data.

Beijing on February 18 imposed a total halt on coal imports from the North until the end of 2017, hardening its stance after a new missile test by Pyongyang, in line with new sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council.

The halt in coal exports aims to cut off a crucial supply of hard currency for Kim Jong-Un's regime. In 2016 China imported coal worth some $1.19 billion from the North.

But Beijing has maintained exports to the Stalinist regime.

North Korea last month bought from its powerful neighbour some $29.1 million of electrical appliances and components, $21.5 million of plastics and manufactured components, and $23.9 million of synthetic fibers -- most of which go back across the border in the form of finished clothes.

For the United States, this trading relationship gives China the necessary economic clout over Pyongyang to bring the rogue regime to heel -- but Beijing staunchly denies this is the case.

Tensions have soared in recent months as North Korean missile tests have brought ever-more bellicose warnings from US President Donald Trump's administration.

The US has long pushed for China to make more efforts to curb Pyongyang's behaviour.

But Beijing has resisted, concerned that a regime collapse could trigger a flood of refugees across the border and leave the US military on its doorstep.

However, it has become increasingly concerned as tensions rise in the flashpoint region, with experts warning of the possibility of a sixth nuclear test by the North.

"The last thing China wants is to see war break out in the region... given the geopolitical circumstances, (North Korea) must learn to be as flexible as they are determined," the state-run Global Times newspaper said Tuesday.

President Xi Jinping called Monday for "restraint" regarding North Korea in a telephone conversation with his US counterpart Donald Trump.

NUKEWARS
New actor Trump heightens N. Korea drama: analysts
Seoul (AFP) April 21, 2017
Geopolitical tensions flare every spring on the Korean peninsula, but analysts say the anxiety of recent weeks has been magnified by the unpredictable new player in the annual drama: Donald Trump. North Korea always intensifies its rhetoric when Seoul and Washington stage annual large-scale joint military drills that it condemns as rehearsals for a potential invasion. But this time threa ... read more

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