China halts short-term visas in South Korea, first response to COVID curbs

Printed Chinese and South Korean flags are seen in this illustration, July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Files
  • Embassy says policy could be adjusted if Seoul lifts curbs
  • Curbs disregard science, nations' actual situations, China says
  • South Korea cites objective, scientific evidence for measures
  • Some arrivals from China say measures have shortcomings

SEOUL/BEIJING, Jan 10 (Reuters) - The Chinese embassy in South Korea has suspended issuing short-term visas for South Korean visitors, it said on Tuesday, the first retaliatory move against nations imposing COVID-19 curbs on travellers from the world's second biggest economy.

The embassy will adjust the policy subject to the lifting of South Korea's "discriminatory entry restrictions" against China, it said on its official WeChat account.

The curbs come "in disregard of scientific facts and the actual epidemic situation in their own countries," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing in Beijing, without mentioning South Korea.

"China firmly rejects this and will take reciprocal measures," Wang added. "Countries should not ... engage in political manipulation or discriminatory practices."

The news came a day after Foreign Minister Qin Gang had expressed concern in a telephone call with his South Korean counterpart Park Jin, China's foreign ministry has said.

Park told Qin that South Korea's decision was made on scientific grounds, asking for both sides to work together to help stabilise the COVID-19 situations in both, the South's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry added that it held discussions with Beijing after being told of its move, and would again convey its position.

"Our government's enhanced quarantine measures on travellers from China are based on scientific and objective evidence," ministry spokesperson Lim Soo-suk told a regular briefing after news of the suspension.

'NO POLITICS'

South Korea last week ordered a PCR test for travellers arriving from China, joining a growing list of countries adopting border curbs amid concern over infections after China abruptly ended its stringent "zero-COVID" policy.

From Thursday, arrivals must also provide a negative result of a PCR test taken within 48 hours of beginning their journey, or a rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours, while short-term visas for Chinese nationals have been suspended until month-end.

On Thursday, South Korean police tracked down a Chinese man who had gone missing while awaiting quarantine following a positive test result upon arrival.

President Yoon Suk-yeol has said South Korea's quarantine and border measures should focus strictly on the safety of its citizens without political considerations.

"No country in the world considers quarantine and border control issues to be a diplomatic, political, economic or trade issue," he told health officials on Monday.

"So any developed country in the world would do that. That's science, and we should only care about the safety and health of the people."

Some Chinese visitors expressed frustration at the curbs.

A tour worker, who gave only her last name, Chen, for reasons of privacy, said her first overseas trip in three years foundered when she arrived in South Korea on Friday and tested positive, contradicting the result she got before departure.

"I was shocked," Chen told Reuters from hotel quarantine. "I was doubtful," she added, as she had just recovered from COVID infection last month. "But they don't provide any answers and won't give you a chance to verify."

Chen said she did not find the measures "convincing" as the other passengers on her airplane, mostly South Koreans had been allowed to go home.

"If this is a method to prevent the spread of the virus, I can't make sense of it."

Arriving South Korean citizens and long-term visa holders must undergo a PCR test at a community clinic or hospital within 24 hours and submit the result online, with those testing positive required to quarantine.

Short-term travellers from China must get a PCR test upon arrival, with those testing positive sent to a designated facility for quarantine of seven days.

The tension hurt share prices of South Korean companies with heavy exposure to China, shaving more than 2% each off cosmetics makers LG H &H (051900.KS) and Amorepacific (090430.KS) in afternoon trade following early gains.

Reporting by Liz Lee, Yew Lun Tian, Martin Quin Pollard and Albee Zhang in Beijing, Hyonhee Shin, Soo-hyang Choi and Choonsik Yoo in Seoul, and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Writing by Hyonhee Shin and Liz Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.