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China set to loosen sanctions on N. Korea after Kim's visit

All Headlines 14:40 June 21, 2018

BEIJING, June 21 (Yonhap) -- China is apparently moving to ease sanctions on North Korea and strengthen bilateral economic cooperation, following the North's leader Kim Jong-un's most recent visit to Beijing.

Signs of loosening sanctions are particularly noticeable in the fields of aviation and tourism.

According to sources here on Thursday, the authorities of Xian, the capital of Shaanxi Province, have recently decided to open a direct aviation route to Pyongyang, the North's capital, in July this year.

The decision became known during Kim's visit to Beijing earlier this week for a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, triggering speculation that the two countries are set to resume economic cooperation in earnest.

Two North Korean airplanes belonging to Air Koryo are seen at an airport in Beijing on June 20, 2018. (Yonhap)

With the inauguration of the Pyongyang-Xian route, the North's flag carrier Air Koryo will fly to five Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai and Chengdu.

The sources and analysts attach special meaning to the North's planned aviation link with Xian, because Shaanxi Province is the birthplace of Xi and his father's grave is located in the central Chinese province.

"China appears to be preparing for large-scale economic cooperation projects with the opening of additional aviation routes with North Korea. The move also seems intended to display the normalization of their bilateral relationship to the outside," said a source.

Last month, a delegation of the North's Workers' Party officials visited Xian in an apparent move to explore possibilities of economic cooperation. The North Korean delegation led by Pak Thae-song, a close aide to Kim, met with top officials of Shaanxi Province.

The sources said travel agencies in Xian are expected to introduce group tour packages for North Korea in time for the opening of direct flight services.

The influx of Chinese tourists has provided precious hard currency to the North whose China-bound exports of marine products, textiles and natural resources have been stymied by U.N. sanctions.

"There is much demand for group tours for North Korea, because of rising Chinese interest in the North after a series of its summits with China, the U.S. and South Korea. A lot of sightseers are expected to depart from Xian for Pyongyang," said the source.

ycm@yna.co.kr
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