China tour canceled for orchestra over visa issue

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China tour canceled for orchestra over visa issue

A renowned American music conservatory decided to cancel its orchestra’s 10-day China tour after three South Korean students encountered difficulties obtaining visas from Beijing, an apparent retaliation to the deployment of a U.S.-led antimissile system to South Korea.

The University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music on Tuesday announced it will cancel a tour of its 80-member Eastman Philharmonia scheduled to run from Dec. 30 through Jan. 8 next year, which would have taken them to eight Chinese cities including Shanghai and Hangzhou.

The New York City-based conservatory had initially planned to proceed with the tour without the three Korean students but reversed the decision after facing immense backlash from students, faculty and alumni.

The school earlier this month announced that it planned to continue the tour without the Korean students after facing visa issues, apparently due to the 2017 deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in South Korea, which has caused diplomatic issues between Seoul and Beijing.

Jamal J. Rossi, dean of the Eastman School of Music, wrote in a letter to the school community on Tuesday that after consulting with the university leadership and their Chinese tour organizers, “We have decided to postpone the tour until all members of the orchestra can participate.”

Rossi said that the school had until recently “continued to actively explore multiple avenues to obtain appropriate visas for every member of the ensemble” but that they were ultimately “not successful.”

Thus, “given the particular circumstances of this tour,” he added that the “best course of action for the Eastman community and the values we share is to wait until the Philharmonia can perform as one.”

In a statement posted last week on the university’s website, Rossi addressed the “news that three Korean members of the Philharmonia would not be able to obtain required work visas in China because of a diplomatic matter between those two countries.”

Rossi in a separate letter to faculty described that in late September “our tour partners in China informed us that they could not obtain visa applications” for the three Korean students.

He continued that this “was related to a 2016 decision” by the United States “to deploy a missile defense system in South Korea, and China responded by blocking South Korean artists from performing in China.”

Seoul and Washington in July 2016 decided to deploy the Thaad system and eventually installed the battery in Seongju, North Gyeongsang, in 2017. China has strongly protested the deployment of the Thaad battery, which Seoul and Washington said was defensive in order to help deter the North Korean missile threat. However, Beijing saw it as a threat to its national security interests and in turn carried out economic retaliatory measures targeting Korean businesses, entertainers and tourism.

Rossi noted that canceling the Eastman Philharmonia’s “first international tour in more than 30 years just two months in advance of the tour would reflect very badly on our school.”

The dean in a letter to the school community Friday defended his decision to continue the tour without the South Korean students, adding he met with them “on two separate occasions to try to fully understand their thoughts and feelings prior to reaching a decision.”

However, a Seoul source said Thursday that technically the school had not applied for the Chinese visas for the Korean students but that the agency arranging the tour had determined that it would be difficult to receive the visas.

Geng Shuang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a briefing Wednesday, “I believe it is an isolated visa case.”

He added that last year, a total of 9.5 million visits were made between China and South Korea and that of these, 4.193 million Koreans visited China. Geng continued, “If China refuses to issue visas due to the Thaad issue as some claim, how could those several million people have made it to China?”

Performances by Korean soprano Jo Su-mi in China were notably canceled in early 2017, which came amid the peak of tensions over the Thaad deployment issue.

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