Beijing makes visa process more difficult

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Beijing makes visa process more difficult

The Chinese Embassy in Seoul has officially disallowed a local travel agency from issuing invitation letters to Korean commercial visa seekers, a move that diplomatic pundits here claim could be retribution for Seoul’s decision to deploy a U.S.-led anti-missile system.

The agency was reportedly told Wednesday to stop issuing the letters. Sources in the local travel industry said the company was previously in charge of almost all domestic services needed to hand out invitations to Korean businessmen, working somewhat like a liaison between the Chinese government and Korean corporate circles.

An official from Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the news, saying local commercial visa seekers will now have to contact an agency in China to receive the document. The source added that he was told by the Chinese government that Korean companies will have “no problem” receiving the forms, unless they refuse to follow the changed rules.

But several travel industry workers here have come to perceive the changes as China’s attempt to complicate visa procedures for Koreans, because from now on, locals will have to individually contact the Chinese agency instead of relying on domestic partners to do the work for them.

On the same day the new policy was laid out, Beijing once again lashed out at Seoul’s decision to deploy the controversial Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, this time through a column carried out by the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.

The article, issued Wednesday and titled “A friendly neighborhood is the best guarantee for South Korea’s national security,” said the very decision to deploy Thaad “breaks the strategic balance in Northeast Asia, threatening if not dooming regional peace and stability with the possible onset of a new Cold War.”

It continued that the system’s surveillance “can spy on almost half of China’s territory,” and that doing so would endanger its national security.

At one point, Beijing said “Seoul may face an outcome it cannot afford” by tying itself to the “U.S. chariot of Asia-Pacific re-balancing.”

Details on what that outcome could be were not mentioned, but the 463-word piece spent at least a quarter of its length highlighting strong economic ties between the two countries.

“South Korea’s economy has benefited much from cooperation with China as well as joint efforts toward regional peace and stability,” the article said. Good relations Korea managed to establish with surrounding countries “helped its economy tide over” the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the global turmoil in 2008, it continued.

Seoul condemned the report Thursday as “single-sided” and “unreasonable,” adding that it would continuously work to convince Beijing that deploying Thaad is an “inevitable” choice for South Korea.

“Thaad is a defensive weapons system purposed to counteract nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, which are increasing day by day,” a source from the local government said under the condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The source added that it is not true that the system would threaten China’s national security and that “a myriad of domestic and foreign experts” share the same opinion.

BY YOO JEE-HYE, KOO HEE-RYEONG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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