North Korea Bus Crash Could Be Worst Chinese Tourist Incident in Years
Jing Travel - An undisclosed number of Chinese tourists were killed in a fatal bus accident in North Korea on Sunday in what could turn out to be one of the worst incidents involving Chinese tourists in recent years. According to a Chinese media report that was later deleted, over 30 Chinese tourists died after their tour bus fell off a bridge in North Korea.
Details of the incident still remain scarce after Chinese state media pulled their more detailed report, but state-run media outlets still maintain that a “serious traffic incident” with “heavy casualties” involving Chinese tourists had occurred in North Korea.
If the previously disclosed number of over 30 casualties is accurate, the incident is likely the most fatal accident involving Chinese tourists since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in 2014, where 153 Chinese passengers have been declared dead in absentia.
Other major fatal incidents involving Chinese tourists in recent years involves the 2016 Taoyuan bus fire in Taiwan, where 24 Chinese tourists and 2 Taiwanese nationals were killed, and the 2017 Borneo shipwreck, which caused three confirmed Chinese tourists’ deaths and the disappearance of an additional five passengers.
By far and large, most publicized fatal incidents involving Chinese tourists are traffic accidents and other vehicle failures. Last year, a total of some 700 Chinese tourists were killed abroad—one third of them during water-based activities, prompting authorities to remind travelers to tread with caution when partaking in activities such as snorkeling and swimming abroad.
Yesterday’s bus accident could prove particularly challenging to both China and North Korea.
China, which tends to be quite heavy-handed in its reaction to Chinese fatalities abroad, may feel compelled to take a more cautious approach to an incident in North Korea given recent developments in the world of diplomacy. The seeming rapprochement between North Korea, the United States, and South Korea has left China worried about potential lost influence on the Korean peninsula, according to a New York Times report. Putting heavy pressure on the Kim regime at a time when the country’s government is exploring a path forward with South Korea and the United States could certainly prove diplomatically unwise.
However, China may have surprisingly little sway over its tourists, even to North Korea. Chinese tourists, known to be notoriously security conscious, may simply shun travel to North Korea as a result of the accident. With Chinese tourists representing a vast majority of tourists in North Korea—and a valuable source of foreign currency—a sharp reduction in Chinese visits would leave China with less leverage over its secluded neighbor.
While it’s unclear how many Chinese visitors go to North Korea every year, 237,000 Chinese visits were made to North Korea in 2012, the last year China reported such statistics. If Chinese tourism to North Korea followed the same trend as Chinese tourism as a whole, that number is likely far larger today. In 2012, 83 million Chinese tourists went abroad, with 130 million traveling abroad last year. Assuming that the growth rate was the same for travel to North Korea, that would amount to over 370,000 Chinese tourist arrivals in North Korea last year.
Needless to say, a sharp reduction of that number in 2018 would prove both devastating for Chinese diplomacy as well as the North Korean economy that still suffers from widespread international sanctions.
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