China plans international tourism zone with North Korea, Russia: State media

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is planning an international tourism zone in its north-eastern border area with Russia and North Korea, state news agency Xinhua said on Friday, in Pyongyang's latest push for new investment.

Mr Jiang Chaoliang, governor of China's northeastern Jilin province, said the province would draw up a blueprint for the Tumen River Delta international tourism area this year, according to Xinhua. The Tumen River divides China and North Korea.

Officials are exploring a management model of the tourism zone that would involve China, Russia and North Korea, Xinhua said. Visitors shall enter the tourism zone without visas and shopping shall be duty-free, Xinhua said, citing officials.

In the long run, South Korea, Japan and Mongolia will join the tourism area via highways, railways and air routes, Xinhua said, citing Zhao Xiaojun, director of Jilin Provincial Tourism Administration.

The initiative was put forward by the Hunchun city government in Jilin in 2013, Xinhua said.

The zone is the latest push by North Korea to transform itself into a tourist attraction - a move with potential economic gains in the short term that avoids restructuring ailing industrial plants.

Many of its projects target Chinese tourists, for whom the North is a cheap destination. While many Chinese flock to Paris, London or New York, some visit North Korea for a slice of nostalgia from the days before their own country opened up to the outside world in the 1980s, according to regular western visitors to Pyongyang.

China is North Korea's most important diplomatic and economic ally, although three nuclear tests, several rounds of sabre-rattling and violence on the China-North Korea border have tested Beijing's support.