Tensions continue to escalate in the Korean peninsula with a number of travel firms apparently being pressured into dropping once popular routes between China and South Korea as Seoul moves ahead with plans to set up the US-backed THAAD missile defense system despite vocal opposition from Beijing.
Both China Eastern Airlines and Spring Airlines have stopped offering flights from Ningbo to the popular South Korean resort island of Jeju from next week. A Spring Airlines spokesperson explained the decision by citing “changing market conditions,” according to Bloomberg.
At the same time, Korea’s Eastar Jet is also halting its services from Jeju to Chinese cities like Ningbo, Harbin and Jinjiang due to “worsening relations.”
Chinese travelers will also have an extremely difficult time reaching South Korea by sea. Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Corp’s Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises have all cut South Korean port calls by their China ships, replacing them with visits to Japan. Princess Cruises said that the routes were altered following talks with “relevant departments,” Reuters reports.
The travel crackdown began last week when Beijing issued instructions to domestic travel agencies to stop sending tour groups to South Korea, a ban which has since spread across the country, putting South Korea’s tourism sector in a precarious position.
Last year, 8.06 million Chinese tourists visited South Korea, accounting for around half of the country’s foreign visitors. Early estimates indicate that Korea could lose $9.63 billion in tourism revenue as a result of this ban. Hardest hit will be duty-free shops which rely on deep-pocketed Chinese tourists for 70% of their business.
In the past, China has imposed similar travel bans on the Philippines and Japan, hoping to bring their competitors to heel by hitting them where it hurts the most.
Facing a nuclear-obsessed neighbor, Seoul sees the THAAD missile defense system as necessary to its survival. At the same time, Beijing views it as a threat to its own national security and has vowed to take appropriate “countermeasures.”
Along with tourists and Kpop performers, Being has also targeted the South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group, which agreed to hand over the land to build the missile system to the government. Already more than half of the company’s stores in China have been temporarily shut down.
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