Following two shocking crimes this month that were perpetrated by Chinese tourists on the popular South Korean resort island of Jeju, locals have finally had enough and are calling for new restrictions to be placed on visitors from mainland China.
More than 11,000 people have now signed an online petition calling for a quick end to Chinese tourists’ visa-free entry privilege to Jeju Island, The Korea Times reports. That now-controversial policy was implemented back in 2008 as a way to bring in more tourists and help the local economy. It worked, turning the island into a Chinese tourism gold mine.
However, critics believe that the policy has also brought in just as much crime as money. The issue made national headlines this month after a group of rowdy Chinese tourists beat up a restaurant owner on the island after she told them not to bring in drinks from outside; followed one week later by a Chinese tourist stabbing a Korean woman to death as she was praying at a local chapel because she reminded him of his ex-wife.
Following that second shocking incident, a petition calling for lawmakers to reform the island’s visa laws and restrict Chinese visitors gathered up 2,000 signatures in a matter of hours. Now, it’s up past 11,000 signatures.
“Jeju is a valuable tourist resource. It has become lawless as Chinese are allowed to visit without a visa,” wrote the person who started the petition, according to The Korea Times. “People’s safety is more important than tourism revenue.”
The Global Times argues that the backlash against these two crimes also threatens to harm Chinese tourists’ safety in South Korea.
“It is quite an issue in South Korea, and many people are showing strong hatred towards some Chinese nationals. And the Korean government is worrying about the spread of xenophobia and ‘Chinese phobia,'” one South Korean citizen, told the Global Times.
Local police report that 347 foreigners have been arrested already this year in Jeju — up from 90 in 2009 — and 240 of those foreigners were from China. However, People’s Daily argues that this is only natural considering that China accounts for a vast majority of foreign visitors to the island. 2.6 million foreigners visited Jeju in 2015, 85.3% of those were Chinese.
The state media outlet argues that the petition likely won’t change anything, because Chinese tourists are simply too vital to the local economy to lose. China News Service reports that 90% of the island’s duty free shop revenue comes from Chinese visitors.
Governor Won Hee-ryong seems to agree. According to The Korea Times, Governor Won has said that he will propose measures to deter crime, but dismissed the possibilty that the visa-free program would be canceled.
“The program has played a critical role in making Jeju Island a global tourist destination,” Won said on Monday. “I understand that many other countries are also dealing with the same issue. We will certainly develop supportive measures.”
In response, some locals have called for recalling Governor Won, “before it’s too late.”