NK-China flight increase

BEIJING, March 27 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's flag carrier is expected to increase weekly flights between Pyongyang and Beijing, official sources said Wednesday, despite the rise in bilateral tensions caused by last month's nuclear test.

According to a representative at Air Koryo, the state-run airline company, it recently received authorization to increase weekly flights between the two capitals from three to five, starting April 12.

If the increase takes place, flights on Monday and Friday will be added to the existing schedule, which currently has passenger jets flying between the two capitals on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The increase will push up the total number of flights linking the two cities from six to eight. Air China currently operates three weekly flights to North Korea on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Air Koryo did not elaborate on the reason for the expansion, but travel agents speculate it may be related to ongoing efforts by the North to attract more foreign tourists during the summer months and cater to business travelers.

The Chinese government has said there has been a steady rise in two-way air travel between the neighboring countries, with the number of North Korean nationals arriving in China hitting 180,600 last year, up from 120,400 in 2010.

Meanwhile, diplomatic sources in the Chinese capital, said the flight increase is noteworthy because Beijing authorized the increase while tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been escalating.

"Relations have cooled between the two sides, and Beijing has stepped up pressure on the North, but the latest move shows that China wants to maintain economic and trade ties," the source said. China has made clear on several occasions that it does not want Pyongyang to push forward with its ambitions to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket late last year and detonated its third nuclear device on Feb. 12, despite stern warnings from the international community, including China. Beijing did not stop the U.N. Security Council for condemning the nuclear test earlier this month and the slapping of tougher sanctions.

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