- New restrictions on South Korean and Japanese citizens transiting through China
- China says visa suspension for South Korea and Japan ‘reasonable’
- An escalation of the diplomatic row could complicate economic relations
- Social media users slam South Korea’s “humiliating” COVID restrictions
BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Wednesday imposed transit restrictions on South Korean and Japanese nationals, in an escalating diplomatic spat over COVID-19 restrictions that mars the grand reopening of the world’s second-largest economy after three years of conflict. Isolate.
China scrapped quarantine mandates for inbound travelers on Sunday, one of the last remnants of the world’s strictest regime of coronavirus restrictions, which Beijing began abruptly dismantling 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 demand negative COVID test results from people arriving from China.
Among them, South Korea and Japan also have limited flights and require tests upon arrival, with passengers who test positive being sent to quarantine. In South Korea, the quarantine is up to the traveler.
In response, the Chinese embassies in Seoul and Tokyo said on Tuesday they had suspended issuing short-term visas to travelers to China, with the State Department calling the testing requirements “discriminatory.”
This led to an official protest from Japan to China, while South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said Seoul’s decision was based on scientific evidence, not discriminatory and that China’s countermeasures were “deeply regrettable”.
In a sign of escalating tensions on Wednesday, China’s immigration authority suspended transit visa exemptions for South Koreans and Japanese.
The dispute may affect the economic relations between the three neighbors as well.
Japanese store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd (3099 T) and supermarket operator Aeon Co (8267.T) They said they may have to rethink individual transfers to China depending on how long the suspension lasts.
“We won’t be able to do short-term business trips, but such trips have diminished during COVID anyway, so we don’t expect an immediate impact. But if the situation continues for a long time, there will be an impact,” he said. A source in the South Korean chip industry asked not to be identified, because the person is not authorized to speak to the media.
China requires negative test results from visitors from all countries.
Some of the governments that have announced restrictions on travelers from China have cited concerns about data transparency in Beijing.
The World Health Organization said China is not reporting deaths.
Chinese health authorities have reported five or fewer deaths per day for the past month, numbers that don’t match the long lines seen at funeral homes. At first, they did not report COVID-death data for Tuesday.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Health Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Without indicating whether the daily reports have been stopped, the deaths can only be counted accurately after the epidemic is over, Liang Wannian, head of the National Health Commission’s COVID expert panel, told reporters.
Wang Guiqiang, head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Peking University First Hospital, said at the same press conference that China should ultimately determine death figures by looking at excess deaths.
Although international health experts have projected at least 1 million COVID-related deaths this year, China has reported more than 5,000 deaths since the pandemic began, a fraction of what other countries have reported as they reopen.
China says it has been transparent in its data.
State media said the COVID wave had 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 combined.
Chinese state media on Wednesday devoted wide coverage to what it described as “discriminatory” border rules in South Korea and Japan.
The nationalist Global Times newspaper defended Beijing’s retaliation, describing it as “a direct and reasonable response to protect its legitimate interests, especially after some countries continue to exaggerate the epidemic situation in China by setting travel restrictions for political manipulation.”
The outrage on Chinese social media has mainly targeted South Korea, whose border measures are the strictest among countries that have announced new rules.
Videos circulating online showed special lanes manned by uniformed soldiers for arrivals from China at the airport, with travelers given yellow ribbons containing QR codes to process test results.
One user of Chinese Twitter-like website Weibo said targeting Chinese travelers was an “insult” and likened it to “people who are treated like criminals and appear on the streets”.
The annual spending of Chinese tourists abroad reached $250 billion before the pandemic, and South Korea and Japan were among the top shopping destinations.
Repeated lockdowns have hurt China’s $17 trillion economy. The World Bank estimated that its growth in 2022 eased to 2.7%, the second slowest pace since the mid-1970s, after 2020.
It expected a rebound to 4.3% for 2023, but this is 0.9 percentage points lower than its June forecast due to the severity of the coronavirus disruptions and weaker external demand.
($1 = 6.7666 CNY)
additional coverage by the Beijing Newsroom; Kaori Kaneko, Mari Shiraki, and Ellen Lies in Tokyo; Joyce Lee, Hyunsoo Yim, and Haekyeong Yang in Seoul by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Kim Coghill
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