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North Korean Airline Lands in Beijing Marking First International Flight Since COVID

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North Korea’s state airline made its first international trip since the start of the Covid pandemic, in a sign of easing border restrictions that could repatriate its stranded nationals abroad and increase trade with its powerful neighbor.

Flight data indicates that an Air Koryo passenger jet flew from Pyongyang to Beijing on Tuesday, which would be the first such commercial flight in more than three years. China’s Foreign Ministry said this week the country had given permission for the flight. Air Koryo is also set to operate flights on Friday and Aug. 28 between Vladivostok and Pyongyang, according to NK News, a specialist service on North Korea.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sealed the border at the start of the pandemic in early 2020. The move slammed the brakes on the little legal trade conducted by his heavily sanctioned state and also left stranded North Korea’s diplomats and thousands of workers sent to places such as Russia and China to earn hard currency for Kim’s regime. 

In a sign of opening, North Korea last month allowed in high-level delegations from Russia and China for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and this month sent a group of its taekwondo athletes abroad to take part in a championship in Kazakhstan.

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Signs of a resumption of trade with China, historically Pyongyang’s biggest partner, led Fitch Solutions to estimate North Korea’s economy returned to growth after two full years of contraction. Still, it added that significant uncertainties still remain.

Air Koryo has previously been ranked among the worst airlines in the world.

—With assistance from Danny Lee.

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