Monday, January 30, 2023

China suspends visas for South Koreans in controversy over COVID-19

BEIJING ( Associated Press) – China on Tuesday suspended visas for South Koreans traveling to the country for tourism or business, in apparent retaliation for COVID-19 testing requirements imposed on Chinese travelers.

The ban will remain in place until South Korea removes “discriminatory measures on the entry” of travelers into the country, according to a brief notice shared online by the Chinese embassy in Seoul.

No further details were given, although Beijing has threatened to retaliate against countries that require travelers to China to show a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours.

China requires similar measures for travelers from overseas. About a dozen countries have followed the United States’ example by demanding negative results in travelers from China. Beijing has lifted most of its anti-virus measures for the first time in three years, but there has also been a large increase in infections since last month.

The World Health Organization and several countries have accused China of hiding data on its outbreak. The purpose of the testing requirements is to identify the possible types of virus that travelers may be carrying with them.

The Chinese ambassador to Australia said that the response of those countries to the COVID-19 outbreak in China has not been proportionate or constructive.

Xiao Qian told reporters in Canberra that China changed its strategy late last year, from containing infections to containing severe cases. He said that countries should act on the basis of science.

The notice, shared by the Seoul embassy, ​​did not explain why China specifically chose South Korea in its retaliation, although the nationalist government of President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has frowned on an alliance between Seoul and Washington.

Previously cordial relations between South Korea and its biggest trading partner soured when China attacked businesses, sports teams and even K- Pop groups were kicked out. China fought on the side of North Korea in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953 and remains a staunch supporter of Pyongyang despite its nuclear and missile tests.

China last month largely rolled back its strict anti-virus rules in response to what it described as the changing nature of the outbreak. The opening comes after three years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing that sparked the biggest street protests in Beijing and other major cities in three decades.

The most optimistic forecasts indicate that business and consumer activity in China could pick up from the first quarter of this year. But before that happens, businesses and households face a surge in infections that has left employers short of healthy workers and customers wary of shopping malls, restaurants, hair salons and gyms.

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Associated Press writer Joe McDonald contributed to this report from Beijing.

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