November 29, 2017 13:21
China's National Tourism Administration on Tuesday decided to partially lift a ban on cut-price package tours to Korea declared eight months ago. At least offline tourist agencies in Beijing and Shandong Province, where 30 percent of last year's 7.8 million Chinese tourists came from, can now sell cheap package tours to Korea again. China is probably the only country in the world that uses tourism as a diplomatic weapon. The Communist Party can simply tell people where to visit and where not to.
China recently agreed to lift its unofficial boycott of Korean products and services as if were doing Korea a favor, but in fact it has taken only partial steps to ease restrictions. The Chinese tourism authority at first wanted to lift the ban for travel agencies in Shanxi and Hainan as well, but in the end it did not. And cruises and charter flights continue to be prohibited, and the ban remains in place for online travel agencies. Chinese tourists are also being exhorted to boycott hotels, stores and entertainment facilities operated by Lotte, which provided the land for the deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S. in Korea and sparked the ban.
China is targeting Lotte to teach all Korean companies and Koreans a lesson. This is not the first time that China has resorted to economic retaliation against foreign countries, but it is the first time it has specifically targeted a single company. The message seems to be that China will gradually lift restrictions if Korea behaves itself. This is intolerable.
The boycott stems from Chinese competition with the U.S. for dominance of Asia, yet the U.S. has kept out of the diplomatic row. Japan has been operating forward-deployed THAAD radars for years which could potentially monitor Chinese military installations, unlikely the ones in Korea. But China is the kind of bully that does not take on a strong country like Japan. It is only picking on South Korea, which deployed the THAAD purely to protect itself from the North Korean nuclear threat.
The deployment of military equipment is the sovereign right of a nation. China's retaliation is undermining Korea's sovereignty, and there can be no bigger threat to any country. Yet the government is acting as if the country's sovereignty can be traded for Chinese tourist money. If Korea acts so spinelessly, it will only encourage China to step up its bullying.
The government said the THAAD issue has been resolved with the bilateral agreement. But shortly afterwards, President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi all demanded that Korea take "appropriate measures" about the THAAD. Next month, President Moon Jae-in will again be pressured about it when he visits China. Koreans are suffering unnecessary humiliation because their government continues to kowtow to China.
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