Beijing is breaking badBeijing and Shandong Province, the two regions where the government’s unofficial ban on group tours to South Korea had lifted late last month after the joint statement from Beijing and Seoul to normalize ties, have, without clear reason, reinstated the same sanctions.
The state-run tourism authority in Beijing has been turning away applications for packaged tours destined for South Korea from Tuesday. Similar state offices in Shandong also began to turn away visa applications from Wednesday.
The move is contrary to the pledges by summits of the two countries that they have put the row over Seoul’s installment of a U.S. antimissile system behind them, and are moving to strengthen bilateral ties. Many had expected the group tour ban, imposed since March 15, would be entirely lifted.
Beijing’s behavior is beyond belief, as it had been less than a week since President Moon Jae-in had been to China on a state visit and held summit talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.
Various theories are circulating. Some suspect China was regulating the flood of tours to Korea and expressing discontent about the Korean media coverage over the summit talks.
Some even think the easing of the economic retaliation was a feigned gesture just for the summit talks, or that Beijing may be protecting its nationals in fear of a contingent development in the Korean Peninsula from the North Korean threat.
What is certain is that Beijing’s group travel ban is intact and that Seoul has no clue why. Authorities are stumbling with excuses that they are checking the issue while the industry now has to worry about the absence of Chinese visitors during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Lunar New Year peak season.
The government cannot hide its embarrassment as it has been touting fruitful results from the summit talks in Beijing. China, like a responsible state, must clearly explain why it was blocking its people from going to South Korea. The government, likewise, must use all possible channels to find out the intentions behind Beijing’s affront and take necessary actions.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 22, Page 38