Following the tragic death of American student Otto Warmbier, who was in a coma for a year in North Korean captivity, the Trump administration has decided to ban U.S. citizens from travelling to North Korea.
North Korea recently conducted its second intercontinental ballistic missile test on July 28, which demonstrated an ability to threaten the continental United States.
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The State Department published an official note of the ban on the Federal Register website on Aug. 2. The travel ban will enter into effect on Sept. 1.
North Korea has a history of mistreating tourists visiting its country. Pyongyang has detained 17 American citizens during the past 21 years. Currently, three American citizens are still detained by North Korea.
The North Korean regime has also harmed and even killed citizens of many other countries, including South Korea, Japan, and Myanmar.
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on July 25 assessing the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure and engagement.”
Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, testified at the hearing that the travel ban seeks to alleviate the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention for future Americans traveling to North Korea.
Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation, also testified at the hearing, stating:
The death of Otto Warmbier dramatically underscored to Americans the heinous nature of North Korea’s legal system and the risk that foreigners face by traveling there. But we must not lose sight of the brutal and reprehensible human rights atrocities that the regime imposes on its citizens.
Banning travel to North Korea is good for many reasons.
First, it will curtail a source of revenue for North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Second, it will stop North Korea from using American prisoners for diplomatic purposes. Third, it will protect U.S. citizens from experiencing the same tragic fate as Otto Warmbier.
Klingner notes that although the travel ban would not have a significant financial impact on North Korea’s economy, it is still needed after the detention and death of American citizen Warmbier.
Joshua Stanton, an influential Korea-watcher at One Free Korea, commented that there are a number of ways to institute a travel ban. The first is to implement a passport restriction as the Trump administration proposed.
Stanton notes that other legislation currently under consideration would restrict “transactions incident to travel, to, from, and within North Korea.”
This type of action further restricts travel and limits North Korea’s access to dollar-denominated currency. It would also further strengthen the already proposed ban, though it would require congressional action.
Although it is unclear how the U.S. government will effectively implement the North Korea travel ban, the ban itself shows U.S. willingness to take additional steps to get tough on North Korea.