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China suspends short-term visas to South Koreans in retaliation for Covid restrictions

China engaged in a tit-for-tat response with its near neighbor over South Korean imposing testing requirements on people arriving from China.

China has suspended the issuing of short-term visas to South Koreans in response to Seoul's imposition of restrictions on Chinese travelers over Covid concerns, Beijing's embassy said Tuesday, January 10.

Seoul introduced a host of measures for visitors from China last month, including visa restrictions and testing requirements – joining more than a dozen countries that have imposed new travel rules over worries of surging Covid-19 infections in China.

"Chinese embassies and consulates in Korea will suspend the issuance of short-term visas for Korean citizens," Beijing's embassy in Seoul said.

It added that the measures would be "adjusted again in line with South Korea's removal of the discriminatory entry restrictions on China." China currently issues no tourist visas and requires a negative Covid test for all arrivals.

Seoul is also capping flights from China, and travelers from the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau have to test negative before departure – measures Seoul's foreign minister has defended as being "in accordance with scientific evidence."

Mainland visitors are also being tested on arrival and are required to quarantine for a week if they test positive, authorities have said.


Manhunt


One Chinese national who tested positive on arriving in Seoul refused to quarantine and fled, sparking a two-day manhunt that dominated South Korean headlines. Police eventually found the Chinese national, who was not identified but was described as a medical tourist. The visitor will be questioned this week over the infraction, local media reported.

According to official figures, 2,224 Chinese nationals on short-term visas have landed in South Korea since January 2, with 17.5% testing positive on arrival.

South Korea has limited its own issuance of short-term visas for Chinese nationals to public officials, diplomats, and those with crucial humanitarian and business purposes until the end of January.

All flights from the country are also now required to land at South Korea's main Incheon International Airport.

South Korea's southernmost Jeju Island, which has its own international airport and separate visa entry regime, had been a popular tourist destination for Chinese arrivals before the pandemic.

Seoul is "inevitably strengthening some anti-epidemic measures to prevent the spread of the virus in our country due to the worsening Covid-19 situation in China", Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said last month in announcing the measures.


'Scientific evidence'


South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin on Monday told his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang the restrictions were being imposed "in accordance with scientific evidence", Seoul's foreign ministry said.

In a separate statement, the ministry said Seoul "communicated with China in advance" about the measures, adding that the information was "shared transparently with the international community".

Beijing's foreign ministry said it was "regrettable" that "a few countries still insist on discriminatory entry restrictions against China".

The ministry's spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said that China was "firmly opposed" to the restrictions, without commenting specifically on its decision to suspend issuing visas to South Koreans.

"We once again call on relevant countries to take scientific and appropriate measures based on facts," Mr. Wang said, discouraging what he characterized as "political maneuvering and... discriminatory practices".

China's hospitals have been overwhelmed by an explosion in cases after Beijing began unwinding hardline controls that had torpedoed the economy and sparked nationwide protests.

For both 2019 and 2020, tourists from China accounted for the largest proportion of all foreign tourists visiting South Korea, making up 34.4% and 27.2%, respectively, according to Seoul's official data.

But the number of Chinese tourists dropped significantly last year – from 6.02 million in 2019 to 200,000 for January to November 2022 – making up only 7.5% of all tourists from overseas, South Korea's culture ministry told Agence France Presse (AFP). [LeMonde]

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