Chinese authorities have banned the issuance of certain visas to South Korea and Japan citizens as Beijing retaliates against recent Covid entry restrictions on arrivals from China.
“Visas for business, tourism, medical treatment, transit and general private matters will be suspended for South Korean citizens effective today,” the Chinese Embassy in Seoul said in a statement on Tuesday. The measures will be “adjusted” if South Korea reverses its “discriminatory” entry restrictions on China, the embassy added.
The Chinese embassy in Tokyo later that day said it would suspend issuing ordinary visas to Japanese citizens, with service resuming “to be announced in the future”.
The restrictions mark China’s first retaliation against restrictions and controls imposed on travelers from China. A number of countries have moved to require testing from travelers from China in recent weeks, citing concerns over a recent surge in infections in the country – and limited data about the outbreak – after Beijing lifted its strict Covid controls last month. past.
South Korea went a step further on January 2 by suspending short-term visa applications from its consulates in China until the end of the month. It also requires people traveling from China to take a PCR test within 24 hours of arrival and remain in isolation until negative results are received.
From January 5, it has also asked people traveling from China to present a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure or a rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours.
Since last Saturday, South Korea has also required people traveling from Hong Kong and Macau to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test result – either from a PCR test taken within 48 hours before departure, or a rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours before. traveling.
Japan launched the requirements for all people who have traveled from or been to Chinese territory in the previous seven days on December 30, with anyone who tests positive required to quarantine for seven days and undergo further testing.
On Monday, the government also announced that from January 12 all travelers arriving from the Chinese territory of Macau by direct flight will be required to present a negative Covid-19 test result carried out within 72 hours of departure and take a test Covid-19 upon arrival. .
China’s move follows a phone call on Monday between Foreign Minister Qin Gang and his South Korean counterpart Park Jin, during which Qin “expressed concern” about the restrictions and urged Seoul to take an “objective and scientific” approach, according to a reading from the Chinese. lateral.
The two countries made official comments on the situation during regular conferences on Tuesday, with the South Korean side saying their Covid-related restrictions on travelers from China were “based on scientific and objective grounds”.
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Lim Soo-suk said the government had “transparently shared relevant information with the international community and continued to communicate with the Chinese side.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin echoed China’s earlier language, saying the country “firmly opposes” the “discriminatory” entry restrictions imposed on Chinese travelers and “will take proportionate countermeasures.”
“Some countries, disregarding the scientific facts and the current epidemic situation in China, continued to impose discriminatory entry restrictions… We call on these countries to issue appropriate pandemic control measures based on facts and science, not to engage in manipulation political, discriminatory. measures and affect the normal exchange and cooperation of personnel,” he said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi also protested China’s decision, saying Tokyo had asked through diplomatic channels for Beijing to reverse the move.
“It is extremely unfortunate that China decided to limit the issuance of (visas) for reasons other than countermeasures for Covid-19,” Hayashi, who is on a diplomatic trip to the Americas, told reporters in Argentina on Tuesday.
The move comes just days after China significantly eased strict border controls that had required all those entering the country, whether Chinese nationals or qualified foreign nationals, to undergo extensive Covid-19 tests and mandatory hotel quarantine.
In recent weeks, more than a dozen countries, including the United States, France, Canada, Japan and Australia, have mandated Covid-19 testing for travelers from China, citing concerns about the level of data reporting from the country and the potential for new variants of the virus to appear there. No such variants have yet been reported.
Some health experts around the world have also criticized targeted travel controls as ineffective and expressed concern that such measures could fuel racism and xenophobia.
Top global health officials on Tuesday reiterated calls for China — as well as the rest of the world — to provide details about circulating coronavirus sequences.
“We need more sequences to be shared in publicly available databases like GISAID so that there can be an analysis by experts around the world,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Organization’s technical lead. of Health for Covid-19, in a regular conference.
She noted that many of the “high-income countries” that have been “critical” of China also need to share sequences so that the scientific community can track the coronavirus.