China imposes transit restrictions for South Korea and Japan amid growing COVID spat

  • New borders for nationals of South Korea and Japan transiting through China
  • China says visa suspensions for South Korea and Japan are ‘reasonable’
  • Escalating diplomatic rows could complicate economic ties
  • Social media users hit out at South Korea’s ‘insulting’ COVID restrictions

BEIJING, Jan 11 (Reuters) – China introduced transit restrictions for South Korean and Japanese nationals on Wednesday, in a growing diplomatic row over COVID-19 restrictions that mar the grand reopening of the world’s second-largest economy after three years. of insulation.

China on Sunday scrapped quarantine mandates for incoming travelers, one of the last vestiges of the world’s toughest COVID restrictions regime, which Beijing abruptly began dismantling in early December after historic protests.

But concerns about the scale and impact of the outbreak in China, where the virus is spreading out of control, have prompted more than a dozen countries to require negative COVID test results from people arriving from China.

Among them, South Korea and Japan have also restricted flights and require testing on arrival, with passengers testing positive being sent to quarantine. In South Korea, quarantine is the responsibility of the traveler.

In response, Chinese embassies in Seoul and Tokyo said on Tuesday they had suspended the issuance of short-term visas for travelers to China, with the Foreign Ministry calling the testing requirements “discriminatory”.

This prompted an official protest from Japan to China, while South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said Seoul’s decision was based on scientific evidence, non-discriminatory, and China’s countermeasures. China were “deeply regrettable”.

In a sign of escalating tensions on Wednesday, China’s immigration authority suspended its transit visa exemptions for South Koreans and Japanese.

The spat can also affect economic relations between the three neighbors.

Japanese department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd (3099.T) and supermarket operator Aeon Co (8267.T) said they may have to rethink staff transfers to China depending on the duration of suspension.

“We won’t be able to do business trips in the short term, but those trips had diminished during COVID anyway, so we don’t expect an immediate impact. But if the situation lasts for a long time, there will be an effect said a South Korean chip industry source who declined to be identified because the person was not authorized to speak to the media.

China requires negative test results from visitors from all countries.


Some of the governments that have announced restrictions on travelers from China have raised concerns about Beijing’s data transparency.

The World Health Organization has said China is underreporting deaths.

Chinese health authorities have reported five or fewer deaths a day for the past month, figures that do not match the long lines seen at funeral homes. Initially, they did not report data on COVID deaths on Tuesday.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Health Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Without mentioning whether daily reports had been halted, Liang Wannian, head of a COVID expert group under the national health authority, told reporters that deaths could not be accurately counted until after the end of the pandemic.

China should ultimately determine death figures by looking at excess mortality, Wang Guiqiang, head of the infectious disease department at Peking University First Hospital, said at the same news conference.

Although international health experts predicted at least one million COVID-related deaths this year, China has reported just over 5,000 since the start of the pandemic, a fraction of what other countries have reported. reported when they reopen.

China claims to have been transparent with its data.

State media said the COVID surge had already passed its peak in Henan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Sichuan and Hainan provinces, as well as the major cities of Beijing and Chongqing – which are home to more than 500 million people combined.


On Wednesday, Chinese state media devoted extensive coverage to what it said were “discriminatory” border rules in South Korea and Japan.

The nationalist tabloid Global Times defended Beijing’s retaliation as a “direct and reasonable response to protect its own legitimate interests, especially after some countries continue to exacerbate the epidemic situation in China by imposing travel restrictions for the purpose of political manipulation”.

The anger on Chinese social media was mainly aimed at South Korea, whose border measures are the strictest among countries that have announced new rules.

Videos circulating online showed special lanes coordinated by uniformed soldiers for arrivals from China at the airport, with travelers given yellow lanyards with QR codes for processing test results.

A Chinese Weibo Twitter user said the targeting of Chinese travelers was “insulting” and akin to “people being treated like criminals and paraded in the streets”.

Annual spending by Chinese tourists abroad reached $250 billion before the pandemic, with South Korea and Japan among the top shopping destinations.

The repeated shutdowns have hammered China’s economy by $17 trillion. The World Bank estimated that its growth in 2022 had fallen to 2.7%, its second slowest pace since the mid-1970s after 2020.

It forecast a rebound to 4.3% for 2023, but that’s 0.9 percentage points below its June forecast due to the severity of the COVID-related disruptions and weakening external demand.

($1 = 6.7666 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Kaori Kaneko, Mari Shiraki and Elaine Lies in Tokyo; Joyce Lee, Hyunsu Yim and Heekyong Yang in Seoul Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Kim Coghill

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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