North Korean Taekwondo Delegation Travels Abroad Amidst Pandemic
A group of North Korean taekwondo athletes and officials were seen traveling through Beijing on Friday morning, signaling the country’s first delegation to travel abroad since it closed its borders in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Preparing for International Taekwon-do Federation World Championships
The delegation consisted of around 80 men and women dressed in white track suits with “Taekwondo-Do” printed on the back and the North Korean flag on the front. They were spotted in the departure hall of Beijing’s international airport, checking in and proceeding to customs. It is believed that they arrived in Beijing on Wednesday or Thursday.
According to Japanese and South Korean media, the group is expected to board an Air Astana flight to Kazakhstan, where they will compete at the International Taekwon-do Federation World Championships. The event is scheduled to take place in Astana until August 30th.
Challenges in North Korean Travel
North Korea has always had limited air connections, and travel significantly decreased when the nation closed its borders to combat the spread of COVID-19. It remains unclear how severe the country’s COVID-19 situation is, as North Korea lacks basic healthcare facilities and shares limited information with the international community.
Human Rights Concerns in North Korea
Interestingly, this resumption of international travel coincides with the United Nations’ focus on human rights abuses in North Korea. At the first open meeting of the UN Security Council on North Korean human rights since 2017, the UN rights chief, Volker Türk, highlighted the increasing repression in the country. Additionally, he expressed concerns that people in North Korea are growing more desperate, with reports of starvation due to worsening economic conditions.
Volker Türk also mentioned that North Korea has extensive restrictions in place, including guards authorized to shoot any unauthorized individuals approaching the border. Furthermore, the country continues to prohibit almost all foreigners from entering, including UN staff.