Tensions are apparently running so high over the installation of the THAAD missile defense system that Chinese tourists don’t even want to visit the South Korea resort island of Jeju anymore.
When a cruise ship docked at the Chinese tourist mecca in the Korea Strait on Saturday afternoon, all 3,400 passengers on board refused to disembark, much to the surprise of the ship’s captain, South Korean customs officials, tour guides and the drivers of 80 tour buses waiting to transport them around the island.
Instead, the Chinese tourists stayed on the 11,000-ton Costa Serena cruise ship for four hours before departing for their next stop in Tianjin. They were all were part of a reward trip that had been organized by a Chinese company which had departed from Fukuoka in Japan, local media reports.
Their decision not to set foot on South Korean soil has been cheered on Chinese social media. “When the Chinese people stand up together, it is formidable sight,” wrote one Weibo user, receiving over 130,000 thumbs up.
According to CGTN, the incident has contributed to the Italian cruise ship company canceling two ships from making trips to Jeju from mid-March to the end of June — adding up to 26 canceled visits and up to 120,000 fewer Chinese tourists visiting the island.
Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Corp’s Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises have all also cut calls to South Korean ports including Jeju, replacing them with visits to Japan. Meanwhile, 86 of the 159 flights linking the resort island to mainland China have also been canceled.
While this may come as welcome news for residents of Jeju who prefer a more peaceful life, it’s devastating news for those in the tourism industry. Back in 2008, Jeju island implemented a 30-day, visa-free policy for Chinese tourists which turned the tiny island into a Chinese tourism gold mine. 2.6 million foreigners visited Jeju in 2015, 85.3% of those were Chinese who busied themselves shopping at the island’s duty-free shops, trashing the Jeju International Airport departure hall with ungodly amounts of packaging before leaving.
In recent years, the waves of Chinese tourists have also led to increase in crime and uncivilized behavior that has locals alarmed. Over 11,000 of them signed a petition calling for an end to visa-free entry for Chinese tourists last September. While the government refused to consider ending the policy, it seems they may now have got what they wanted.
Facing a nuclear-obsessed neighbor, Seoul sees the US-backed 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” and has raised nationalist sentiment against South Korea.
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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