North Korea has registered around 200 athletes, coaches and officials for the Asian Games to be held in China this fall, according to sources familiar with the matter, although Pyongyang has yet to lift COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Since 2020, Pyongyang has maintained almost entirely closed borders to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. A Beijing-based source familiar with North Korean affairs said it remained unclear whether the country's stringent cross-border travel curbs would be eased before the games to be hosted by the city of Hangzhou in eastern China.

North Korea sent two representatives to a preparatory meeting on April 26 for the Asian Games, to be held between late September and early October, and expressed Pyongyang's intention to take part in the sporting event, the sources said.

Photo taken Aug. 30, 2018, shows the North Korean cheering squad, holding a Korea unification flag, at the venue of the women's basketball semifinal between Taiwan and the unified team of North and South Korea at the Asian Games in Jakarta. The unified Korean team won 89-66. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Late last month, North Korea returned to international sports competition after three years of absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with two Japan-based male ethnic Korean athletes participating in the East Asian karate championship in Taizhou, eastern China.

Rumors have been spreading in China that restrictions on travel to and from North Korea will be eased in the near future, with Chinese travel agencies starting to advertise tours to the neighboring country.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported earlier this week that North Korea will open to tourists from June 10, citing two travel agencies based in northeastern China's Liaoning Province that had been notified by North Korean authorities.

New Chinese Ambassador to North Korea Wang Yajun arrived in Pyongyang a week after entering the country in late March, fueling speculation that he had been quarantined in a city outside of the capital.

Wang is believed to be the first foreign diplomat accepted by Pyongyang since it implemented strict border controls. He filled the post vacated by his predecessor about 15 months ago.

Freight train and vehicle transportation services between North Korean and Chinese border cities have resumed, amid fears that the country has been suffering from a chronic food shortage.

China is North Korea's closest and most influential ally.

Related coverage:

North Korea joins karate match in China, returns to int'l sports event

North Korea's Kim orders expansion of weapons-grade nuke material output

Asian Games: North, South Koreans compete together for 1st time