China suspends short-term visas for S Koreans over COVID curbs

Beijing takes first retaliatory move against countries that have introduced new measures on arrivals from China amid a surge in the virus.

A Chinese woman walks out of Seoul airport accompanied by a soldier in a blue hazmat suit
Chinese tourists need to test for COVID-19 before they leave China and on arrival in Seoul [File: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]

China has stopped issuing short-term visas to South Koreans, its embassy said, after Seoul imposed travel restrictions on travellers from China amid concerns about the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.

It is Beijing’s first retaliatory move against countries that have introduced new measures on arrivals from China, which suddenly abandoned its strict zero-COVID policy in December, resulting in the virus spreading rapidly.

The announcement comes a day after Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang expressed concern about the restrictions in a telephone call with his South Korean counterpart Park Jin, according to China’s foreign ministry.

South Korea’s Park told Qin the new border restrictions were “based on science and objective”, according to his office.

“Chinese embassies and consulates in Korea will suspend the issuance of short-term visas for Korean citizens,” the Chinese embassy in Seoul announced, adding that the measures would be “adjusted again in line with South Korea’s removal of the discriminatory entry restrictions on China”.

South Korea is among countries including Australia, France, and the United States that have introduced measures targeting travellers from China amid a surge in COVID cases and concerns about a lack of transparency in official data, including the emergence of new variants.

Seoul’s measures are among the most onerous, including visa restrictions, testing requirements and some flight limits. Passengers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau have to test negative before travelling and are tested again on arrival.

Those testing positive are required to quarantine for a week, authorities have said.

Beijing is currently not issuing tourist visas and requires a negative COVID test from all arrivals.

One Chinese national who tested positive on arriving in Seoul refused to quarantine and fled, sparking a two-day manhunt that dominated South Korean headlines.

Police eventually found the traveller – who was not identified, but described as a medical tourist – and they will be questioned this week, according to local media.

Official figures show 2,224 Chinese nationals on short-term visas have landed in South Korea since January 2, with 17.5 percent testing positive on arrival.

Seoul is “inevitably strengthening some anti-epidemic measures to prevent the spread of the virus in our country due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in China”, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said last month in announcing the measures.

Hospitals in China have been overwhelmed by cases since Beijing began opening up after nationwide protests fuelled by growing frustration at three years of harsh controls that failed to eliminate the virus.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies