China suspended issuing visas Tuesday for South Koreans to come to the country for tourism or business in apparent retaliation for COVID-19 testing requirements imposed by South Korea on Chinese travelers, according to a notice posted by the Chinese Embassy in Seoul.
Japan’s Kyodo News service said the ban would also affect Japanese travelers. A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said the government was aware of the report and was holding unofficial discussions with Chinese authorities about measures being considered by Beijing. It would be “regrettable” if restrictions are imposed, the official said, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity.
The brief notice, published on the embassy’s WeChat account, said the ban will continue until South Korea lifts its “discriminatory measures on entrance by China” to the country.
No other details were given, although China has threatened to retaliate against countries that require travelers from China to show a negative test result for COVID-19 taken within the previous 48 hours. The announcement appeared to apply only to new applicants and said nothing about South Koreans currently holding visas.
Withholding visas from Korean or Japanese businesspeople could delay the revival of fully-fledged commercial activity and potential new investments following China’s abrupt lifting of anti-virus controls.
Business groups warned earlier that global companies were shifting investment plans away from China because it was too hard for foreign executives to visit. A handful of foreign auto and other executives have visited China over the past three years, but companies have relied on Chinese employees or managers already in the country to run their operations.
A South Korean restaurant owner in Beijing said the announcement forced friends to postpone plans to visit China. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern his business might be affected. He added that he is preparing to renew his own Chinese work visa and doesn’t know whether that will be affected.
China has yet to say when it might resume issuing tourist visas on a large scale.
In a phone call with his South Korean counterpart, Park Jin, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang “expressed concern” about the measures taken by South Korea and said he “hopes that the South Korean side will uphold an objective and scientific attitude.
China’s move appeared to be grounded in its demands that its citizens be treated the same as those of other countries. Around a dozen countries have followed the U.S. in requiring negative tests for travelers coming from China, which has lifted most of its “zero-COVID” restrictions for the first time in three years but also has been experiencing a major outbreak since last month.
At a daily briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin defended China’s anti-pandemic measures, adding that “Regrettably, a handful of countries, in disregard of science and facts and the reality at home, have insisted on taking discriminatory entry restriction measures targeting China. China firmly rejected this and took reciprocal measures.”
Wang did not respond directly to questions about the suspension of visa issuance to South Koreans and Japanese, saying only that he had “made it very clear.”
The World Health Organization and several nations have accused China of withholding data on its outbreak. The testing requirements are aimed at identifying potential virus variants carried by travelers.
China’s ambassador to Australia said the response of those nations to China’s COVID-19 outbreak hadn’t been proportionate or constructive.
Xiao Qian told reporters in Canberra that China had shifted its strategy late last year from preventing infections to preventing severe cases. He said countries should use a science-based response.