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Air China resumes North Korea flights, says halt not political but ‘market-based’

LiveMint logoLiveMint 25-04-2017 AFP

Beijing: Air China has resumed flights to the North Korean capital after their temporary suspension sparked speculation that Beijing was pressuring Pyongyang to curb its nuclear and missile programmes.

Flights between Beijing and Pyongyang every Monday and Friday on China’s flag carrier will restart on 5 May, an Air China customer service representative said on Tuesday.

State broadcaster CCTV had previously reported that the route was “suspended” as of 17April, raising questions about whether the move was politically-motivated.

“The route was never eliminated, just temporarily cancelled due to ticket sales,” said the Air China employee, noting that the airline would continue to monitor demand when determining future flight arrangements.

Air China is the only foreign carrier operating regular commercial flights to North Korea.

Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang last week distanced China’s government from the decision to temporarily halt flights, calling it purely “market-based”.

Tensions have soared in recent months as North Korean missile tests have brought ever-more bellicose warnings from US President Donald Trump’s administration.

The US has long pushed for China, North Korea’s only major ally and biggest trade partner, to make more efforts to curb its behaviour.

But Beijing has resisted, concerned that a regime collapse could trigger a flood of refugees across the border and leave the US military on its doorstep.

However, in February, China announced it was halting all imports of coal from North Korea—a crucial earner for Pyongyang—for the rest of the year.

“The steps we’re seeing China take, in many ways unprecedented steps, bringing economic pressure to bear on North Korea are very welcome,” US vice-president Mike Pence had said on Saturday.

“We do believe China can do more.”

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