North Korean flag carrier Air Koryo will begin flying direct to the Chinese gambling enclave of Macao next month, the city’s aviation authority said.
Macao will become the fourth international destination that Air Koryo flies to on a regular basis, according to the airline’s website. The North Korean carrier currently flies to Beijing and Shenyang in China and Vladivostok in Russia. All three cities are much closer to North Korea than Macao, which is located close to Hong Kong in southern China.
Air Koryo will run the flights twice a week beginning August 2, according to the Macao Civil Aviation Authority.
Macao authorities did not say what type of planes would be used. North Korea is believed to only operate five different aircraft for flights into China, said Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours, a specialist travel company that helps Western tourists visit North Korea.
Macao has become one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations in recent decades thanks in part to the massive investments in the city’s gaming industry. The city, which like neighboring Hong Kong is governed as a special administrative region, is the only place in China where casinos are legal.
The new route will connect the world’s most popular gambling destination by gambling revenue to one of the world’s poorest countries by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
But it’s possible that the route is meant to cater to a growing number of young, wealthy elites inside North Korea who have thrived under Kim Jong Un’s leadership and live in what has become known as “Pyonghattan.”
The new route will also likely concern authorities in Washington monitoring sanctions on North Korea as punishment for its nuclear weapons program, as Pyongyang has previously been accused of using the city as a hub for its illicit activity abroad.
The most famous case took place in 2006, when the United States accused the Kim Jong Il regime of using the Macao-based Banco Delta Asia to launder millions of dollars and help traffic extremely well-made counterfeit $100 bills.
Washington sanctioned Banco Delta Asia and authorities in Macao froze more than $20 million dollars in accounts tied to North Korea. Pyongyang was reportedly furious at the time, and some experts believe the Washington’s decision to go after North Korea’s illicit funds abroad contributed to the collapse of nuclear talks with North Korea at the time.