Thursday, 2 December 2021

China permits tours to South Korea as relations warm


BEIJING: China is resuming limited tour group travel to South Korea , a sign of warming relations which were strained by Seoul’s installation of a US missile defence system.

Tour group operators in Beijing said Tuesday the city’s tourism bureau had told them they could resume booking group visits to South Korea .

China halted group travel to the South in March after the country began deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which Seoul and Washington say is intended to combat missile threats from nuclear-armed North Korea . China sees it as a threat to its own military capabilities and slapped a series of restrictions on South Korea in moves seen as economic retaliation.

In addition to the travel curbs it imposed a series of measures on South Korean firms operating in China .

The undeclared sanctions have taken a toll on South Korea ‘s economy, with its economic growth slowing this summer amid shrinking exports.

“We just received the notice today,” said Zhang, an employee at Huanyu Yuntong International Travel Agency, who said the tourism bureau would allow them to resume sending groups to South Korea .

“At present, according to the tourism bureau’s rules, we still can’t cooperate with websites,” she said, noting they would resume selling to over-the-counter travel agents.

The end of the ban appeared restricted to a few areas. Tour operators in other major Chinese cities told AFP they still could not book group visits to South Korea .

Both countries late last month took steps to improve relations , saying they had agreed to address China ‘s concerns over THAAD through future discussions.

Eearlier this month Chinese President Xi Jinping and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in held talks on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit.

China has consistently denied putting in place any sanctions on travel to South Korea . Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he had no knowledge of the travel ban when asked about it at a press briefing on Tuesday.

“We hope the two sides will create a enabling environment and conditions for our friendly exchange,” Geng said. South Korea ‘s Moon is expected to visit Beijing in December.

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