North Korean plane takes off from Beijing in a sign Pyongyang is opening borders post-pandemic

BEIJING (AP) — A North Korean commercial flight has taken off from Beijing in a sign that Pyongyang is opening its borders again after almost three years of severe COVID-19 restrictions.

The Russian-made Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-204 jet with capacity for 210 passengers reportedly landed in the Chinese capital Tuesday morning and was filmed taking off shortly after 1:30 p.m. local time (0530 GMT).

China has “approved the regular flight plan of North Korean Air Koryo Pyongyang-Beijing-Pyongyang and other passenger routes in accordance with the procedures,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

“The specific flight is subject to the arrangement of the airline in accordance with the approval of the Chinese competent authority,” Wang said.

China is North Korea’s closest diplomatic ally and a key source of food and fuel aid for an economy beset by natural disasters and mismanagement.

Little is known about conditions inside the country due to the ruling Workers Party’s complete control over information and its exclusion of most foreign diplomats, United Nations organizations and overseas media.

The flight follows a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and the leaders of Japan and South Korea, who agreed Friday to expand security and economic ties at a historic summit at Camp David just outside Washington.

Biden maintained, as have U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials, that the summit “was not about China” but was focused on broader security issues.

Yet, the leaders in their joint summit concluding statement noted China’s “dangerous and aggressive” action in the South China Sea and said they “strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.”

Biden said the nations would establish a communications hotline to discuss responses to threats. He announced the agreements, including what the leaders termed the “Camp David Principles,” at the close of his talks with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Yoon noted in particular the threat posed by North Korea, saying the three leaders had agreed to improve “our joint response capabilities to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, which have become sophisticated more than ever.”

Isolated diplomatically and highly food insecure, North Korea has persevered in its campaign of missile and nuclear threats that seek to glorify the regime of Kim Jong Un, the third generation of the family-run totalitarian state.