North Korea wants foreign tourists


SEOUL – North Korea said Tuesday it would open an air route with Malaysia next week as the isolated communist country seeks to attract more foreign tourists in an apparent bid to earn much-needed hard currency.

The two countries plan to open the air route between Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur next Friday to start a tourism program in the North for Malaysians, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch, without elaborating.

The development comes weeks after Pyongyang launched a tourism program for the Chinese by opening air routes with the Chinese economic powerhouse of Shanghai and the ancient city of Xian.

The North has allowed tourists from Shanghai to visit the country without a visa, the KCNA dispatch said, adding Pyongyang has taken a series of steps to simplify immigration procedures for tourists.

Many Chinese from Shanghai have toured scenic spots and monuments in the North since July 1, the dispatch said, without giving figures.

In July, the KCNA quoted a top North Korean travel company official as saying that an increasing number of Chinese could visit the North for sightseeing at a mountain resort and other tourist attractions.

The move comes amid a dispute between the two Koreas over their stalled joint tour program at Mount Kumgang on the east coast.

North Korea has threatened to dispose of South Korean assets in the coming weeks unless South Korean investors either join the North’s new international tour program or lease, transfer or sell their assets during the period.

North Korea has recently signed a deal with a New York-based company for tours to the resort, according to the company president.

Seoul suspended the joint tour program to the mountain resort following the shooting death of a female tourist near the resort in 2008.