North Korean taekwondo athletes and officials made a noteworthy appearance at Beijing's international airport on a Friday morning, marking what seems to be North Korea's initial delegation to venture abroad since sealing its borders in the early months of 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The delegation, numbering around 80 individuals, was easily identifiable in their white track suits emblazoned with the words "Taekwondo-Do" on the back and the North Korean flag displayed prominently on the front. This group was spotted in the airport's departure hall, engrossed in check-in procedures and proceeding towards customs.
Sources suggest that their arrival in Beijing took place either on Wednesday or Thursday. Reports indicate that these athletes and officials are en route to Kazakhstan to participate in the International Taekwon-do Federation World Championships.
The event, set to unfold in Astana until August 30, is anticipated to be an important platform for showcasing their skills and talent on an international stage.
Pandemic's Veiled Toll on North Korea
For North Korea, a nation with notably restricted air connections, this marked journey signifies a significant step as its borders have remained essentially shut since the emergence of the pandemic.
The reclusive nation's efforts to thwart the spread of COVID-19 led to a virtual cessation of travel and commerce, exacting an undisclosed toll on the populace. Due to the lack of vaccines, limited healthcare infrastructure, and information blockade, the true extent of the pandemic's impact within North Korea remains veiled.
The resumption of travel activity has broader implications as it aligns with recent intelligence shared by South Korea. The country's National Intelligence Service conveyed to lawmakers in a confidential briefing that North Korea is gradually exploring options to reopen its borders, largely driven by economic considerations.
North Korea's economy endured consecutive contractions from 2020 to 2022, with its gross domestic product in 2022 plummeting by 12% compared to figures from 2016. However, this glimmer of mobility is set against a backdrop of growing international concern.
During an open meeting of the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. rights chief, Volker Türk, illuminated the escalating repression within North Korea. He highlighted the populace's increasing desperation and the grim reality of starvation amid deteriorating economic circumstances.
The country's strict measures, including the authorization for guards to use lethal force against unauthorized border approaches and the continued exclusion of almost all foreigners, further solidify North Korea's seclusion from the global stage.