A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test Photo: Reuters
Many Chinese travel agencies have suspended tourism products related to South Korea as tensions between Beijing and Seoul escalated over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system (THAAD) on the paninsula.
Leading travel agencies including China Travel Service and China Youth Travel Service have stopped offering tourism products for visit to South Korea, while search of South Korean tourism products on tuniu.com, another major online travel agency, ended in no results.
“But for South Korea tourism products already sold, we would complete (them),” said a sales person from CYTS who declined to be named.
On Friday, 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.
The National Tourism Administration’s warning also came after Lotte and South Korea's military signed a land swap deal this week to enable authorities to deploy THAAD, which the Chinese government regarded as a threat to its national security and has repeatedly said to take necessary measures against it.
The statement raised concerns among Chinese tourism industry participants, while a rumor spread on social networks on the same day that the administration will ban all tourist groups to South Korea starting from March 15.
“The NTA issued such a statement at a time when the entry denial (to South Korea) is not a hot issue but THAAD is in focus, showing the government’s unfavorable attitude toward (travelling to South Korea),” an industry participant told sino-us.com.
Although China didn’t issue any official order to stop selling travel products related to South Korea, tourism insiders worry that the government may still have methods to reduce travel to South Korea, such as cancelling flights or stopping yachts from calling at South Korean ports.
South Korea has been a popular tourism destination for Chinese people, and suspension of related tourism products will hurt Chinese travel agencies’ balance sheet.
“South Korean people love THAAD, but we (Chinese) love our country more,” said Li Wei, the general manager of Beijing Enjoy World International Travel Service Co., telling sino-us.com that his company has already stopped selling South Korea-related tourism products and would suggest his customers going to other destinations.
On Friday, in response to the question on whether the communications between NTA and officials from South Korean embassy to China are related to THAAD, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang reiterated Beijing’s consistent strong opposition to the deployment of THAAD by South Korea and the US.
“Rather than random guessing and making things up, (South Korean government) should listen to the calls from the public and take effective measures to avoid further damage to China-South Korea relations as well as exchanges and cooperation between the two countries,” Geng said.