China has suspended the issuance of short-stay visas for South Koreans, the Beijing Embassy in Seoul announced on Tuesday, in response to South Korea’s health restrictions on Chinese travelers.
“Embassies and consulates in Korea will suspend the issuance of short-stay visas for Korean citizens,” the Chinese embassy said, adding that these measures “will be adjusted based on Seoul’s removal of discriminatory entry restrictions. towards China.”
Beijing currently does not issue tourist visas and requires a negative COVID test for all arrivals regardless of their origin.
In December, Seoul imposed a series of health restrictions for travelers from mainland China, including on visas and flights, and the requirement to present drug tests, citing an upsurge 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 Seoul had “communicated beforehand with China” about these measures, and that the information had been “transparently shared with the international community”.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing said it was “regrettable” that “a few countries still insist on discriminatory entry restrictions against China”. Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China is “firmly opposed” to such restrictions, without commenting specifically on the decision to suspend issuing visas to South Koreans.
“We again call on the countries concerned to take scientific and appropriate measures based on facts. These measures must not be used for political maneuvers and there must be no discriminatory practices,” he insisted.
Seoul has reduced the number of flights from China, which are now confined to Incheon International Airport, located about fifty kilometers west of Seoul.
Travelers from China, Hong Kong and Macao must now provide a negative COVID-19 test before they can board a flight to South Korea. Chinese visitors are also tested upon arrival and must complete a one-week quarantine if they test positive, authorities said.
Only government officials, diplomats and certain crucial humanitarian and business trips are eligible for a short-stay visa in South Korea, until the end of January.
According to official figures, 2,224 Chinese nationals with 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 individual, whose identity has not been released but who was described as a tourist who came for medical reasons, was eventually found 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 to South Korea fell from 6.02 million in 2019 to 200,000 from January to November 2022, accounting for only 7.5 percent of foreign tourists, the South Korean ministry told AFP. of the culture.
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.