China suspends visas for Japan and South Korea in COVID-19 spat

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese embassies on Tuesday stopped issuing new visas for South Koreans and Japanese in apparent retaliation for COVID-19 measures recently imposed by those countries on travelers from China.

It was unclear whether China would extend visa suspensions to other countries that imposed virus testing on passengers arriving from China following its COVID-19 surge.

Embassies in Tokyo and Seoul announced the suspensions in brief online notices.

Seoul’s notice, posted on the embassy’s WeChat social media account, said the ban would continue until South Korea lifts its “discriminatory entry measures” against China. The announcement covered tourist, business visas and a few others.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has threatened countermeasures last week against countries that had announced new virus testing requirements for travelers from China. At least 10 in Europe, North America and Asia have done so recently, with officials worrying about the lack of information about the Chinese outbreak and the possibility of new virus variants emerging.

South Korea also stopped issuing most short-term visas at its consulates in China for the month of January, except for government activities, essential business and humanitarian reasons. Japan has not announced a similar measure.

The Chinese Embassy in Tokyo said only that visa issuance had been suspended. The announcements appeared to apply only to new applicants, with nothing about people currently on visas.

Japan protested the move through diplomatic channels, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters in Argentina.

“It is extremely regrettable that China has restricted the issuance of visas,” he said, adding that Japan would respond appropriately while monitoring the outbreak in China and the amount of information the government is sharing with them. this subject.

A statement from South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that “the step taken by our government to strengthen anti-virus measures on passengers from China is based on scientific and objective evidence…and we have communicated with the party Chinese in advance”.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said earlier that it would be “regrettable” if restrictions were imposed. The official spoke on the usual condition of anonymity.

A suspension of visas for South Korean or Japanese businesspeople could delay the hoped-for resumption of business activity and potential new investment after China’s abrupt lifting of virus controls last month.

Business groups had earlier warned that global companies were moving their investment plans away from China because it was too difficult for foreign leaders to come under pandemic controls. A handful of foreign auto and other executives have visited China in the past three years, but many 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 for fear that his business could be affected. He added that he is preparing to renew his Chinese work visa and does not know if this will be affected.

In a phone call on Monday ahead of the visa suspension announcement, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang “expressed concern” about South Korea’s actions to his counterpart, Foreign Minister Park Jin. Qin said he “hopes the South Korean side will maintain an objective and scientific attitude.”

China’s decision appears to be based on its demands that its citizens be treated the same as those of other countries. A dozen countries have followed the United States in requiring either a negative test before leaving China, a test for the virus upon arrival at the airport, or both.

“Unfortunately, a handful of countries, in defiance of science, facts and domestic reality, have insisted on taking discriminatory entry restriction measures targeting China,” a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday. Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin. “China firmly rejected this and took reciprocal measures.”

He did not respond directly when asked if new visas had been suspended for South Koreans and Japanese, saying only that he had “made it very clear”.

The World Health Organization and several countries have accused China of withholding data on its hatching. A WHO official said on Tuesday the agency saw no immediate threat for the European region of the China outbreak, but that more information is needed.

China’s ambassador to Australia said these countries’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak in China has been neither proportionate nor constructive.

Xiao Qian told reporters in Canberra that China changed its strategy late last year from preventing infections to preventing serious cases. He said countries should use a science-based response.

“Entry restrictions, if they are aimed at China, they are useless,” the ambassador told reporters.

The once cordial ties between South Korea and China, its biggest trading partner, have soured in recent years after Beijing targeted businesses, sports teams and even K-pop groups to protest the deployment of an advanced American anti-missile system in South Korea.

China abruptly reversed its “zero-COVID” strategy of trying to contain the virus last month in response to what it says is the changing nature of the outbreak. It came after three years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing that prompted rare politically tinged protests on the streets of Beijing and other major cities.

The most optimistic forecasts indicate that China’s business and consumer activity could pick up as early as the first quarter of this year. But before that happens, entrepreneurs and families are facing painful pressure from a rise in virus cases that has left employers without enough healthy workers and kept wary customers away from malls, restaurants, hair salons and gymnasiums.

China now faces rising cases and hospitalizations in major cities and is preparing for further spread in less developed areas with the start of the Lunar New Year travel rush, which is expected to accelerate in the coming days. While international flights are still reduced, authorities say they expect domestic rail and air travel to double from the same time last year.

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Associated Press writers Joe McDonald in Beijing, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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