Beijing has dismissed any political motive behind the cancellation of flights to Pyongyang, amid speculations that the move was intended to pressure North Korea over its missile program.
The rejection came on Monday after Chinese state broadcaster CCTV announced three days earlier that Air China, the country’s flag carrier, had suspended its Beijing-Pyongyang route in the wake of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula involving the United States.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the decision was purely "market-based” and that "it's natural for Air China or other airlines to make such decisions … There shouldn't be over-interpretation of this issue."
A customer service representative for the Chinese carrier also said that the flights had been called off due to low demand.
"Air China has not suspended operations for the Beijing-Pyongyang route," the official said. "These flights were canceled based on ticket sales."
Moreover, major travel agencies in China have recently stopped offering tours to North Korea due to lack of financial interest.
The development comes as Beijing has come under pressure from Washington to do more to rein in North Korea's missile and nuclear programs.
China is North Korea’s major ally, but it has backed UN sanctions against Pyongyang over its missile and nuclear tests.
In February, North Korea simultaneously launched four ballistic missiles off its east coast, three of which landed close to Japan. In August, it also successfully tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile some 500 kilometers off the coast of Japan, in a move which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hailed as the "greatest success."
On April 16, US and South Korean military officials also reported that Pyongyang's latest missile test had failed the same day, with the projectile exploding almost immediately after the launch.
Tensions between North Korea and the United States have increased over the past weeks. Washington has been concerned by North Korea’s nuclear tests, which Pyongyang believes act as deterrence against a potential invasion by the US or South Korea.
The North faces international pressure to abandon its arms development and nuclear program. Yet, it says the programs are meant to protect the country from US “hostility.”