[Editorial] Don’t exploit quarantine for diplomacy

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[Editorial] Don’t exploit quarantine for diplomacy

In a controversial move on Tuesday, China abruptly decided to suspend the issuing of short-term visas for Koreans. Beijing says it took the action in proportion to Korea’s restrictions on entrants from China. But China certainly overreacted to Korea’s step way beyond reciprocity. That reminds us of its narrow-minded economic retaliation for Korea’s decision in 2016 to deploy the Thaad missile defense system. China’s latest step sound alarms over future relations of the two countries.

Beijing likely took the step to retaliate against Seoul’s decision to partially restrict short-term visas for entrants from China from January 2 and require a Covid-19 test for Chinese travelers before and after their arrival. China suddenly suspended short-term visa issuance for entrants from Japan, too. Earlier, sixteen countries, including the United States, Italy and Spain, placed restrictions on entrants from China. But we wonder why Beijing stopped issuing short-term visas for only Korea and Japan. That clearly constitutes a discriminatory action. If China really took the step to check a strengthening of tripartite relations among Korea, the United States and Japan, that deserves criticism.

China announced the retaliatory step just a day after Foreign Minister Park Jin and his new Chinese counterpart had their first phone conversation on Jan. 9. At that time, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang demanded “an objective and scientific attitude” from Korea after expressing concerns about the quarantine restrictions Seoul imposed on Chinese entrants after the lifting of the ban in China. Minister Qin is infamous for his offensive “Wolf-warrior diplomacy” while serving as Chinese ambassador to Washington.

China’s mentioning of “quarantines on scientific grounds” is not convincing either. Beijing imposed enormous restrictions on Koreans entering the country to the point of human rights violations during the three years of “zero-Covid.” In the face of massive “blank sheet” protests against Beijing’s regulations, the government has hurriedly turned to the “With Covid” strategy. Is that a scientific approach?

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo kept a distance from the claim that China took a retaliatory step, and expressed intention to address the issue through communications with Beijing. His reaction looks gentle. But if he keeps a submissive stance just like the docile Moon jae-in administration, China will continue to look down on Korea.

Sovereignty and people’s safety cannot be compromised. Our foreign ministry must urge China to cancel its inappropriate measure and closely watch the movements of Chinese people before and after the Lunar New Year’s Day on Jan. 22 before it is too late.
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