U.S. lawmakers have proposed a ban aimed to prevent American tourists from traveling to North Korea. On Thursday, two congressmen introduced a new bill that would ban recreational visits to the reclusive state amid the increasing tensions between the U.S. and Pyongyang.
The ban is an attempt to keep American citizens safe in addition to cutting off a source of foreign currency to Kim Jong Un’s government and prevent it from detaining more U.S. citizens. North Korea has a history of using detained U.S. citizens to provoke and or extract high-profile visits from United States officials with which the country has no formal diplomatic relations.
Democrat Adam Schiff and Republican Joe Wilson have similarly said that the North Korea Travel Control Act is a result of the detention of at least 17 Americans in North Korea in the past decade.
“With increased tensions in North Korea, the danger that Americans will be detained for political reasons is greater than ever,” the congressmen said in a statement.
The United States is taking various steps to control travel to the nation as “[North Korea] poses a real and present danger to American interests.” There has been at least 17 Americans detained in North Korea over the past decade. Four citizens are currently imprisoned there, according to Reuters.
“Tourist travel to North Korea does nothing but provide funds to a tyrannical regime — that will, in turn, be used to develop weapons to threaten the United States and our allies.”
There seems to be a willingness of U.S. citizens to be used as bargaining tools, according to a statement made by Republican Rep. Joe Wilson.
“Worse, the regime has routinely imprisoned innocent foreign civilians and used them as bargaining chips to gain credibility with the West.”
The bill would create a ban on tourist travel by Americans while other visits would require a special license from the Treasury Department, according to a congressional source who spoke with Reuters. There would be no licenses issued for tourists.
Every year, several hundred Americans visit North Korea. There has also been relief workers and religious groups that have made visits to the reclusive nation.
Currently, four Americans are being held in North Korea as diplomatic tensions with Washington have heightened. Two of them were detained and are affiliated with a private university in the North Korean capital.
A congressional source said the bill would ban tourist travel by Americans outright, while any other visits would require a special license from the Treasury Department, which is enforcing a wide range of sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.
This month, North Korea has gone as far to assert the right to “ruthlessly punish” U.S. citizens it has detained for crimes against the government, according to Reuters. However, the country said calling arrests of this nature bargaining ploys was “pure ignorance.”
On May 7, North Korea announced they had detained Kim Hake Song, a professor at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. The American instructor was held on suspicion of “hostile acts.” Kim Sang Dok was associated with the same school and was detained in late April on the same charge.
In addition to the detainees listed above, the other two Americans are Otto Warmbier, 22, and Kim Dong Chul. Otto is a college student who was detained in January of 2016 and sentenced to 15 years hard labor for attempting to steal a propaganda banner. Kim Dong Chul, a 62-year-old Korean-American missionary, was sentenced to 10 years hard labor last year.
According to Koryo, they are the largest operator of tours to North Korea. They are also dedicated to non-Chinese tourists. Every year, the company claims they take around 2,000 travelers from other countries to North Korea and only 20 percent are American, per CNN Money.
“The North Korean weapons program won’t grind to a halt as a result of the loss of a few hundred tourists a year.”
The State Department strongly warns U.S. citizens against traveling to North Korea, saying they’re “at serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”
“[North Korea’s] system imposes unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States and threatens U.S. citizen detainees with being treated in accordance with ‘wartime law of the DPRK.'”
The U.S. State Department added that the United States does not maintain diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea, therefore, the U.S. government has no means to provide normal services of counsel to U.S. citizens in North Korea.
[Featured Image by Wong Maye-E/AP Images]