China to resume visas for South Koreans after COVID row

Move comes after Seoul last week scrapped COVID-related travel restrictions for arrivals from China.

China says it will begin processing short-term visas for South Koreans from Saturday [File: Tingshu Wang/Reuters]

China will resume short-term visas for travellers from South Korea after Seoul scrapped pandemic-related travel restrictions that angered Beijing.

China will begin processing short-term visas for South Koreans for “business, transit and other private affairs” from Saturday, the Chinese embassy in Seoul said in a post on its official WeChat account on Wednesday.

China stopped issuing short-term visas to South Koreans in January after Seoul slapped COVID restrictions on travellers from China amid concerns Beijing’s sudden dismantling of its controversial “zero-COVID” policy could spawn new coronavirus variants.

The South Korean government began issuing visas last week amid reports China’s wave of COVID infections had peaked, after previously indicating it would restrict visas until the end of February.

China’s foreign ministry at the time called South Korea’s move a “step in the right direction” to facilitate people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.

More than a dozen countries including Japan, South Korea and the United States introduced travel restrictions on arrivals from China after Beijing scrapped lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine following rare mass protests late last year.

Beijing condemned the curbs as discriminatory and lacking in scientific basis. Some health experts also questioned the need for the curbs given the spread of the virus elsewhere and the wide availability of vaccines.

South Korea is one of China’s top sources of tourism, with more than 4 million South Korean visitors to the country in 2018. Chinese nationals are the biggest group of tourists in South Korea, accounting for more than one-third of the 17.5 million arrivals in 2019.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies