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Human Rights & Social Issues

How North Korea copes with China’s uncouth tourists


Chinese tourists leave after paying homage to a giant portrait of Kim Il-sung at a square in Rason, but the mausoleum for Kim and his son Kim Jong-il is not on their itinerary

Chinese tourists leave after paying homage to a giant portrait of Kim Il-sung at a square in Rason, but the mausoleum for Kim and his son Kim Jong-il is not on their itinerary

North Korea’s tourism workers may look down on their boorish northern visitors but they also appreciate their big-spending ways

When hordes of Chinese tourists descend on Pyongyang, there’s a mixed reaction from North Korea’s tourism workers: they are pleased their No 1 visitors will be splurging on everything from souvenirs to casinos, but then there’s a furtive sigh of: “Here we go again.”

Bad behaviour by mainland Chinese tourists in Hong Kong to Egypt, Paris to the Maldives, is well documented. But breaches of etiquette in the notoriously strict Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are sometimes more obtuse.

Simon Cockerell, of Koryo Tours, which specialises in travel to the reclusive socialist state, cites as an example mainland tourists throwing sweets at North Korean children “like they’re feeding ducks”. “The North Koreans think that’s undignified and offensive,” he says.

In another faux pas: “If mainland tourists go to a school performance, they don’t have any qualms about rushing to the stage and picking up a child for photos.”

Cockerell says such behaviour highlights the need for what the Chinese National Tourism Administration calls an “improved degree and level of civilised behaviour” by its tourists.

Gareth Johnson, founder of Young Pioneer Tours, has encountered many mainland tour groups during the more than 40 visits he has made to North   Korea while escorting young and Western budget travellers.

He describes a “stereotypical” mainland tour group: “A hundred people following a flag, all wearing caps and just being bussed about, largely to gift stores.”

“And they don’t really know anything about the country,” says Johnson, even though the two countries are neighbours and allies, and many mainland visitors have “grown up in a similar political system”.

Says Cockerell: “The mainlanders are just more forward… they just tend to be a lot louder.” When faced with the reserved and conservative North Koreans, it can result in a “clash of behavioural styles”.

A Chinese delegation relaxes on the inaugural trip of the Mangyongbyong cruise ship in 2011

A Chinese delegation relaxes on the inaugural trip of the Mangyongbyong cruise ship in 2011

All this is minor, of course, compared with those who break away from a tour group and go poking about Pyongyang or distribute religious literature to locals, as a minority of Western visitors have done. Such behaviour has grave consequences not only for the tourist but for tour guides and agencies.

Johnson says when people ask sensitive questions – short of speaking ill of the regime – “the worst thing that can happen is that the Koreans feel uncomfortable and stop talking. To get into big trouble, you’ve got to be quite stupid”.

“It doesn’t really annoy the North Koreans, but I think it gets them down a bit,” Cockerell says. “Chinese people in general are perhaps more willing to voice their opinions on something without really thinking through how it will be taken by their hosts.

“Most Western travellers at least are aware of the sensitivities there and are probably less quick to offend their hosts. Most of the tour guides I know, they joke about Chinese tour groups’ behaviour. But it doesn’t matter as they’ve seen it all before.”

But Cockerell says it has had a bearing on the level of access afforded to Chinese tour groups. He says only select Chinese can go to Mount Paektu, known for its volcanic lake and as the birthplace of late leader Kim Jong-il, while the mausoleum of Kim and his father, Kim Il-sung, are absent from their itineraries.

Conversely, there are places long accessible to the Chinese that have only recently been opened to other tourists, such as the border city of Sinuiju.

Like in any other country, cultural misunderstandings are a natural consequence of letting more tourists into one’s country, according to Johnson and Cockerell.

Tourism has boomed since Beijing approved North Korea as a destination for its citizens in June 2008, and a memorandum of understanding was signed in October 2009.

Visitors had already been allowed special permits and tour agencies were already bringing tourists, but China-North Korean tourism officially began in earnest in April 2010.

That month, more than 400 people rode on the first Chinese tourist train to enter North Korea for a four-day tour.

The Chinese tourism office says 237,400 Chinese travelled to North Korea last year, 22.5 per cent more than in 2011, but a North Korean tourism official has claimed as many as 700,000 came in 2010-11.

North Korean’s disdain for some of the behaviour of their northern visitors might be part of an underlying resentment, according to Barbara Demick, Beijing bureau chief of The Los Angeles Times and author of the seminal book on North Korean life Nothing to Envy.

“[North Koreans] always thought of themselves as richer than the Chinese or having a purer brand of socialism, and they are now very jealous of China’s wealth,” she says.

“I don’t see tensions, but I would think that the Chinese are even less popular as individuals than the Americans. I think because the Chinese are close by, while the Americans are abstract – they’re far away and there’s a lot of propaganda about them.”

While Chinese tourists’ “misbehaviour” might not be causing too many headaches in North Korea, cultural sensitivity is an issue that Beijing is seeking to address.

“With the rapid growth of China’s outbound tourists, a few who are travelling abroad have shown uncivilised behaviour and language, which had an impact on the country’s international image,” the Chinese National Tourism Administration says.

The administration, with the help of the Foreign Ministry, has launched awareness and education campaigns that promote, among other things, “civilised tourism and rational consumption”.

There is limited data on what percentage of North Korea’s economy is propped up by tourism. But there is no doubt it is having a positive impact on infrastructure in border cities and supports jobs elsewhere in the country where there are very few other opportunities to make money.

So until every Chinese abroad is on their best behaviour, North Koreans will continue to grin and bear it.

“Mostly, the reaction from North Koreans is a sort of roll of the eyeballs and a ‘What can I do?’ shrug,” says Cockerell.

Source: SCMP “How North Korea is coping with uncouth tourists from China”
 
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About chankaiyee2

Author of the book "Tiananmen's Tremendous Achievements" about how with the help of Tiananmen Protests, talented scholars with moral integrity seized power in the Party and state and brought prosperity to China. The second edition of the book will be published within a few days to mark the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Protests All the parts in the first edition remain in the second edition with a few changes due to information available later and better understanding. There are also some changes for improvements of style. The new parts are Chapters 12-19 on events in China after the first edition was published: The fierce power struggle for succession between reformists and conservatives; Xi Jinping winning all elders’ support during his mysterious disappearance for 2 weeks in early September, 2012; and Xi Jinping Cyclone. Chan Kai Yee's new book: SPACE ERA STRATEGY: The Way China Beats The US An eye-opening book that tells the truth how the US is losing to China. The US is losing as it adopts the outdated strategy of Air-Sea Battle while China adopts the space era strategy to pursue integrated space and air capabilities: It is losing due to its diplomacy that has given rise to Russian-Chinese alliance. US outdated strategy has enabled China to catch up and surpass the US in key weapons: Hypersonic weapons (HGV) that Pentagon regards as the weapon that will dominate the world in the future. Aerospaceplane in China’s development of space-air bomber that can engage enemy anywhere in the world within an hour and destroy an entire aircraft carrier battle group within minutes. Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, anti-ASAT weapons, stealth aircrafts, drones, AEW&C, etc. The book gives detailed descriptions of China’s weapon development based on information mainly from Chinese sources that the author monitors closely. U.S. Must Not Be Beaten by China! China is not a democracy. Its political system cannot prevent the emergence of a despotic leader or stop such a leader when he begins to bring disasters to people. A few decades ago, Mao Zedong, the worst tyrant in world history did emerge and bring disasters to Chinese people. He wanted to fight a nuclear war to replace capitalism with communism but could not bring nuclear holocaust to world people as China was too weak and poor at that time. If a despot like Mao Zedong emerges when China has surpassed the US in military strength, world people will suffer the misery experienced by Chinese people in Mao era. China surpassing the US in GDP is not something to worry about as China has the heavy burden to satisfy its huge population, but China surpassing the US in military strength will be world people’s greatest concern if China remains an autocracy. US people are of much better quality than Chinese people. What they lack is a wise leader to adopt the correct strategy and diplomacy and the creative ways to use its resources in developing its military capabilities. I hope that with the emergence of a great leader, the US can put an end to its decline and remain number one in the world. China, US, space era strategy, air-sea battle, space-air bomber, arms race, weapon development, chan kai yee

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