22nd May 2018 - Around 20 foreign journalists today left Beijing for North Korea by a charter plane to observe the dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, three weeks ahead of leader Kim Jong Un’s potential summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

North Korea allowing foreign media to conduct on-the-spot coverage of the facility’s shutdown is seen as a sign of goodwill from Kim, who has recently committed to denuclearization — but skepticism lingers that it may be only a “political show.”

Pyongyang has said it will hold a ceremony to mark the closure between Wednesday and Friday, depending on weather conditions, and that journalists from China, Russia, the United States, Britain and South Korea will be allowed to visit the site.

Punggye-ri is where North Korea has conducted all of its six nuclear weapon tests to date, beginning in 2006, including the most powerful one last September.

U.S. and Russian reporters said they received visas at North Korea’s Embassy in Beijing yesterday. Foreign journalists are scheduled to go to a press center set up in Wonsan, a city on the country’s east coast.

“We hope that North Korea is going to be transparent like they said,” a Hong Kong based reporter who is on his 18th trip to North Korea, told reporters before departing from Beijing International Airport.

North Korean nuclear test site in Punggye-ri

North Korean nuclear test site in Punggye-ri

At his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae In on April 27, Kim pledged to shut down the key test site in May and disclose its closure to foreign experts and media to ensure transparency, according to Moon’s office.

But North Korea did not invite experts, such as those from the International Atomic Energy Agency, to observe the dismantlement, raising concern that the actual condition of the nuclear test site will not be revealed.

All the tunnels at the test site will be destroyed by explosions and the surrounding area will be completely closed, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by the country’s official media as saying earlier this month.

North Korea, meanwhile, has not issued visas to South Korean journalists initially invited to attend the ceremony at the test site in the country’s northeast. They could not get on board the charter plane, arranged by Pyongyang, with other foreign reporters.

At the airport earlier today, some South Korean journalists waited for North Korea to issue their visas immediately before the plane took off.

Last Wednesday, North Korea suddenly canceled a ministerial-level meeting with South Korea planned for that day, criticizing joint military drills carried out by Seoul and Washington for undermining the recent inter-Korean moves toward reconciliation.

Pyongyang is believed to be testing Washington’s mettle ahead of the scheduled June 12 summit in Singapore.