By Bernard Orr and Brenda Goh
BEIJING (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Chinese state media on Wednesday defended retaliatory measures against South Korea and Japan over their COVID-19-related travel restrictions as “reasonable”, while Chinese tourists denounced the treatment as “insulting”. of Seoul on social media.
China reopened its borders on Sunday after three years of isolation under the world’s toughest COVID restrictions regime, which Beijing suddenly began to dismantle in early December after historic protests.
With the virus spreading unchecked among China’s 1.4 billion after policy U-turn, some foreign governments have expressed concern about the scale and impact of the outbreak, with the World Health Organization saying deaths are underreported.
At first, Chinese health authorities – which have reported five or fewer deaths a day for the past month, numbers that are inconsistent with the long lines seen at funeral homes – did not report COVID death figures on Tuesday.
The China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the country’s National Health Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
South Korea, Japan, the United States and more than a dozen other countries imposed requirements for negative pre-departure test results for visitors from China earlier this year.
In response, the Chinese embassies in Seoul and Tokyo said on Tuesday that they had suspended issuing short-term visas for travelers to China, with the foreign ministry calling the testing requirements “discriminatory”.
China requires negative test results from visitors from all countries.
State-run nationalist tabloid Global Times defended Beijing’s retaliation as a “reasonable and direct response to protect its legitimate interests, particularly after some countries continue to inflate China’s epidemic situation by imposing travel restrictions for political manipulation.”
South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said the country’s decision was based on scientific evidence. Japan has filed a complaint with China for suspending the issuance of visas for Japanese citizens.
Chinese social media rage has primarily targeted South Korea, whose border measures are the strictest among countries announcing new rules.
Travelers from China must undergo another test upon arrival, with those who test positive sent to a designated quarantine facility for seven days at their own expense. Flights can only land at Incheon International Airport.
Videos circulating online show special lanes coordinated by uniformed soldiers for arrivals from China at the airport, with travelers fitted with yellow lanyards with QR codes for processing test results.
A Twitter-like Chinese Weibo user said spotting Chinese travelers was “an insult” and similar to “people treated like criminals and paraded through the streets.”
The Global Times reserved a separate article for South Korea, saying the measures made Chinese people suspect Seoul was staging a “political show”.
“Seoul shouldn’t be surprised by China’s countermeasures,” reads the article, which also criticizes the “very bad” quarantine conditions.
The tensions hurt the share prices of South Korean companies with heavy exposure to China, including cosmetics makers LG H&H and Amorepacific.
Annual spending by Chinese tourists overseas reached $250 billion before the pandemic, with South Korea and Japan among the top shopping destinations.
China has repeatedly brushed off criticism of its tough COVID restrictions since early 2020, as well as their sudden rollback, which has overwhelmed hospitals and crematoria across the country and left pharmacies under guard.
Although international health experts have predicted at least one million COVID-related deaths this year, China has reported just over 5,000 since the pandemic began, a fraction of what much less populous countries reported upon reopening.
China says it has been transparent with its data.
State media said the COVID surge has already passed its peak in Henan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Sichuan and Hainan provinces, as well as the major cities of Beijing and Chongqing, home to more than 500 million people combined. .
(Additional reporting from Beijing Newsroom; Written by Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle)