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Chinese tours to S.Korea halted in missile row: agencies

Beijing: Beijing travel agencies said Friday they could no longer arrange trips to South Korea, following reports that China had ordered a clampdown to punish Seoul over its plans to host a US missile-defence system.

South Korea’s fifth-largest company, Lotte, is facing an escalating backlash in China after providing land for the military facility, which Beijing fears will undermine its own defence capabilities.

So far, China’s government has refrained from taking any public retaliatory steps against South Korea.

But tour operators contacted by AFP confirmed the suspension of trips to South Korea, after Yonhap news agency Thursday reported that China’s tourism administration had issued a verbal directive on the issue.

“Please consider going to other countries. Trips to South Korea are suspended due to policy and safety factors,” said a woman staffer at CYTS online service, one of China’s biggest travel companies.

Staff at two other leading travel-service providers said the same.

“You can’t register for a trip to South Korea, it’s suspended. I don’t know why, nor when it will be resumed,” said a female employee at BTG Travel.

Chinese travellers are a major and growing source of tourism revenue for South Korea.

Yonhap’s report said the ban was likely to be expanded to travel firms in other cities, citing “industry sources” in China.

Allies South Korea and the United States agreed last year to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to counter growing nuclear and missile threats by North Korea.

China’s foreign ministry has said THAAD “jeopardises” regional security and has warned of unspecified consequences against Seoul and Washington.

South Korea’s defence ministry signed a land swap deal with retail giant Lotte Group on Tuesday for the stationing of the system and said it would push for its deployment this year.

Lotte has already suffered business setbacks and boycott threats in China over the plan.

The China National Tourism Administration did not respond to an AFP request for comment.

But it posted travel tips on Friday that urged Chinese tourists to carefully consider “the risks of outbound travel” when mulling trips to South Korea.

Asked about the reported travel halt, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Friday dismissed the question during a daily briefing.

“Instead of chasing shadows and working on speculation, it’s better to focus on the concrete issue so as to avoid further damage to bilateral relations,” he said.

–Agence France-Presse