- New bans on Chinese smuggling to S. Korea, Japan nationals
- China says visa suspension for S. Korea, Japan “reasonable”.
- Escalating diplomatic conflicts will complicate economic relations
- Social media users lash out at S.Korea’s “shameful” Covid restrictions
BEIJING, Jan 11 (Reuters) – China introduced travel bans on South Korean and Japanese nationals on Wednesday, as a diplomatic row escalated over Covid-19 restrictions that have hampered the reopening of the world’s second-largest economy after three years. Isolation.
China on Sunday lifted quarantine orders for incoming travelers, one of the last signs of the world’s strictest COVID restrictions, which Beijing began to lift abruptly in early December after historic protests.
But concerns about the scale and impact of the outbreak in China, where the virus is spreading unchecked, have prompted more than a dozen countries to request negative COVID test results from people arriving from China.
Among them, South Korea and Japan also have limited flights and require tests on arrival, with passengers sent to quarantine showing positive. In South Korea, quarantine is at the traveler’s own expense.
In response, Chinese embassies in Seoul and Tokyo said Tuesday they had stopped issuing short-term visas to travelers to China, after the Foreign Ministry slammed the testing requirements as “discriminatory.”
This prompted an official protest from Japan to China, while South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin-Seol said the decision was based on scientific evidence and was not biased and that China’s countermeasures were “deeply regrettable”.
In a sign of rising tensions on Wednesday, China’s immigration authority suspended transit visa exemptions for South Koreans and Japanese.
The spat could also affect economic relations between the three neighbours.
Japanese supermarket operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd (3099.D) and supermarket operator Aeon Co (8267.D) Depending on how long the suspension lasts, he said, they may have to reconsider transferring personnel to China.
“We can’t take short-term business trips, but such trips have come down anyway during COVID, so we don’t expect an immediate impact. But if the situation persists for a long time, there will be an impact,” said one. The South Korean chip declined to identify the industry source, saying the person was not authorized to speak to the media.
China requires negative test results from visitors from all countries.
Some governments that have announced restrictions on travelers from China have cited Beijing’s concerns about data transparency.
The World Health Organization says China is underestimating the deaths.
China’s health authorities have been reporting five or fewer deaths a day for the past month, a contrast to the long lines seen at funerals. For the first time, they did not report the COVID death data on Tuesday.
China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Health Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Liang Wannian, head of the COVID Expert Group under the National Health Commission, told reporters that deaths can only be accurately counted after the epidemic is over, without specifying whether daily reporting has stopped.
Wang Guiqiang, head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Peking University First Hospital, told the same news conference that China will ultimately have to look at the excess deaths and determine the mortality figures.
Although international health experts predict at least one million Covid-related deaths this year, China has reported more than 5,000 since the pandemic began, a fraction of what other countries reported when they reopened.
China claims to be transparent with its data.
The Covid wave has already passed its peak in the provinces of Henan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Sichuan and Hainan, as well as in the major cities of Beijing and Chongqing – home to more than 500 million people, state media said.
On Wednesday, Chinese state media devoted extensive coverage to what they called “discriminatory” border rules in South Korea and Japan.
Nationalist tabloid Global Times defended Beijing’s response as “a direct and justified response to protect its own legitimate interests, especially as some countries continue to escalate China’s pandemic situation by imposing travel restrictions for political manipulation”.
Chinese social media anger was mainly aimed at South Korea, whose border measures have been tough on countries that announced the new rules.
Videos circulating online showed special routes coordinated by soldiers in uniform for airport arrivals from China, with passengers given yellow lanyards with QR codes to process test results.
One user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo said singling out Chinese travelers was “shameful” and akin to “being treated like criminals and paraded through the streets”.
Annual spending by Chinese tourists abroad reached $250 billion before the pandemic, with South Korea and Japan as top shopping destinations.
Repeated lockdowns have hit China’s $17 trillion economy. The World Bank estimates its 2022 growth will fall to 2.7%, its second slowest pace since the mid-1970s after 2020.
It forecast 4.3% in 2023, but that is 0.9 percentage points lower than its June forecast due to the severity of the Covid disruptions and weakening external demand.
($1 = 6.7666 Chinese Yuan Renminbi)
Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Kaori Kaneko, Mari Shiraki and Elaine are in Tokyo; By Marius Zaharia in Seoul by Joyce Lee, Hyunsu Yim and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Kim Coghill
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.