China is North Korea’s primary sponsor state. But North Korea is also a problem for China. Kim Jong Un’s saber rattling leads to the militarization of South Korean and potential re-arming of Japan, challenging Chinese hegemony in North Asia.
Meanwhile, as the U.S. antagonizes North Korea, if China plays a role containing them they gain prestige on the world stage — equal to or in excess of the United States.
This is three-dimensional international chess, and aviation has played a key role in international affairs since at least the time that Pan Am was dubbed “The Chosen Instrument” both carrying out and influencing U.S. policy abroad.
Against this backdrop it’s a tell that China is signaling a move against North Korea by ending Air China’s Beijing – Pyongyang service or at least suspending it.
North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un Visits Pyongyang’s Airport
According to Routes Online,
Initially, Air China converted this summer seasonal service back to year-round with 2 weekly flights in winter 2017/18 season, during its first major schedule update in late-June 2017. Earlier this month, schedule changes shows service temporary suspended from 14NOV17, with no resumption date. Reservation for summer season also removed earlier this month.
Air China on 17NOV17 and 20NOV17 operated 1 extra flight each, carrying high-level Chinese envoy for the 4-day visit in North Korea. Based on Weibo posting, remaining Air China staff stationed in Pyongyang returned to Beijing on the same aircraft with the Chinese envoy.
China’s other lever to clamp down on North Korea’s access to the outside world (and foreign tourist dollars) is using safety regulations to limit their national carrier Air Koryo’s flying to China. So we’ll see whether this escalates, or is simply a message.
Air Koryo Tupolev TU-204 Approaching Beijing, copyright boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo
If China did suspend Air Koryo’s flight authorities (to Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenyang) that would leave their only flight connection to the outside world as their twice-weekly Vladivostok service.