Beijing responds to Seouls anti COVID measures and suspends short stay visas

Beijing responds to Seoul’s anti-COVID measures and suspends short-stay visas

China has suspended issuing short-stay visas to South Koreans, Beijing’s embassy in Seoul said Tuesday, in response to South Korea’s health restrictions on Chinese travelers.

“Embassies and consulates in Korea will suspend issuing short-stay visas to Korean citizens,” the Chinese embassy said, adding that these measures “are adjusted due to China’s lifting of discriminatory entry restrictions in Seoul.”

Beijing does not currently issue tourist visas and requires a negative COVID test for all arrivals, regardless of origin.

In December, Seoul imposed a series of health restrictions on travelers from mainland China, including visas and flights, as well as mandatory drug test submissions, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases in China.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin told his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang on Monday that the restrictions were imposed on “a scientific basis”.

In a separate statement, the ministry said that Seoul had “previously communicated with China about these measures” and that the information was “transparently shared with the international community.”

China’s Foreign Ministry in Beijing said it was “regrettable” that “some countries still insist on discriminatory entry restrictions towards China”. Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China is “firm” against such restrictions, without commenting specifically on the decision to suspend issuing visas to South Koreans.

“Work out discriminatory”

“We again urge affected countries to take scientific and reasonable action based on facts. These measures must not be used for political maneuvering and there must be no discriminatory practices,” he stressed.

Seoul has reduced the number of flights from China, which are now restricted to Incheon International Airport, located about fifty kilometers west of Seoul.

Travelers from China, Hong Kong and Macau must now present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight to South Korea. Chinese visitors will also be tested on arrival and will have to complete a week-long quarantine if they test positive, authorities said.

Only government officials, diplomats and certain essential humanitarian and business trips are eligible for short-stay visas in South Korea until the end of January.

According to official figures, 2,224 Chinese nationals on short-stay visas have landed in South Korea since Jan. 2, and 17.5 percent of them tested positive upon arrival.

One of the Chinese nationals who tested positive upon arrival in Seoul refused to submit to quarantine and fled, sparking a two-day manhunt that made headlines in South Korea.

The person, whose identity was not released but was described as a tourist on medical grounds, was eventually located and will be questioned this week, local media reported.

Chinese hospitals have been overwhelmed by an explosion of cases after Beijing eased its drastic health measures following a rare wave of protests in several cities across the country.

The number of Chinese tourists in South Korea fell from 6.02 million in 2019 to 200,000 in January-November 2022, accounting for just 7.5 percent of foreign tourists, South Korea’s culture ministry told AFP.

In 2019 and 2020, tourists from China accounted for the largest proportion of foreign tourists visiting South Korea, at 34.4 percent and 27.2 percent, respectively, according to official data from Seoul.