South Korea has become the first country to face retaliation for imposing restrictions on Chinese travellers following China’s zero-COVID about-face.
According to a statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in South Korea on January 10th, short-term visas for South Korean travellers have been suspended, including visas for business, tourism, and medical treatment. No information was given about the length of the suspension.
This move follows Seoul’s December 30th announcement of temporary COVID-19 testing requirements for travellers arriving from China, as well as limited flights and visa restrictions. Other countries that have imposed restrictions following China’s rapid opening of borders include Japan, the USA, Malaysia, India, Italy, the UK, France, Israel, Spain, Morocco, Australia, Canada, Thailand, and Qatar.
Prior to the statement released on January 10th, Qin Gang, China’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, spoke over the phone with South Korea’s Foreign Minister on January 9th. Qin expressed deep concern over the new restrictions and said he hoped that South Korea would uphold an “objective and scientific attitude”.
Mao Ning, the government spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, previously criticised the restrictions, stating that they were not based on science and that the use of COVID measures for “political purposes” would be rejected by Beijing. She also stated that “the principle of reciprocity” would be applied to countries imposing measures targeted at Chinese travellers.
It is not clear why South Korea was targeted, however relations between the countries have cooled considerably over the past few years following the 2017 crisis that erupted over North Korea’s missile defense system.
As life within China’s borders gradually returns to normal, the country’s pandemic response continues to pose significant challenges for diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries and beyond. In the coming weeks, more countries may be forced to weigh up the threat of Chinese visa suspensions against the danger of greater viral spread within their own borders.