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Royal Caribbean cancels port stops in South Korea amid China-South Korea tensions

Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas is 348 meters long and can carry up to 4,900 passengers. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Royal Caribbean announced on Wednesday that it will cancel the port calls to South Korea by cruise ships sailing from the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Tianjin between March 15 and June 30 due to concerns over the changing situation in the peninsular country.

In a statement published on its Chinese website, the cruise lines said that the cancelled port calls will be replaced by a sea day or an alternate Japanese port that is more attractive to consumers. But the statement did not explain what it called the situation changes in South Korea really are.

Besides Royal Caribbean, several cruise companies including Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises also called off port stops in South Korea, the Paper reported, citing unnamed sources from several domestic travel agencies.

In an email sent on Wednesday to a domestic travel agency which was seen by the Paper, Liu Zinan, president of the China and North Asia Pacific region of Royal Caribbean, wrote that Royal Caribbean and its travel agency partners are facing a "common risk", which the president believed could be overcome by the efforts to communicate with the consumers.

Since Lotte Group signed a land swap deal with South Korea's military to offer its golf course to be used as the construction site of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, many Chinese travel agencies have stopped offering tourism products for visit to South Korea, while search of South Korean tourism products ended in no results.

"We will stick to the principle of national interest is above everything else in operating our businesses," an unnamed employee from a Chinese travel company said, according to the Paper.

Industry insiders say that the THAAD deployment may take a toll on South Korea's tourism due to the big contributions by Chinese tourists, even though the Chinese authorities have not issued any official order to suspend sales of travel products related to South Korea.

Last week, the China National Tourism Administration released a statement on its website, warning Chinese citizens to "clearly know the risks of traveling abroad" and "choose the travel destination carefully", after cases of Chinese citizens being denied entry into South Korea's Jeju Island increased recently.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang has said that the success of foreign companies in China should depend on the market and consumers.

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