China tour agencies confirm government is banning South Korea trips

South Korean tourist information helpers guide tourists in the popular Myeongdong shopping district in Seoul.
South Korean tourist information helpers guide tourists in the popular Myeongdong shopping district in Seoul.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Tour agencies in China's Shandong province said they received notification from the government of a ban on group trips to South Korea, in a further signal that Beijing isn't adopting a fast approach to restoring normal ties with Seoul.

A Shandong branch of China International Travel Service said it received notice that no tour groups to South Korea will be allowed beginning Jan 1, while Shandong China Travel Service also said it can no longer organise trips.

A Beijing travel agency said it hasn't heard of any changes and is continuing with plans for group tours, though Yonhap News reported Beijing may take similar measures next week.

Shares of South Korean tourism and cosmetics companies slipped again on Friday (Dec 22), extending a weekly decline.

The developments follow conflicting reports this week over whether China is again blocking group visas to South Korea. The government earlier this year placed an unofficial curb on tourism following Seoul's deployment of a US missile shield, but expectations have grown in recent months that an easing of tensions between the two nations would result in the dropping of barriers to allow a free flow of visitors to South Korea.

China is trying to "tame" South Korea with the ban amid high expectations for a restoration of relations after President Moon Jae In's China visit, Chosun Ilbo reported, citing an unidentified person in Beijing. Yonhap News said the ban may be temporary.

While Chinese President Xi Jinping and his South Korean counterpart Moon pledged last week in Beijing to move beyond the dispute, signs of discord were evident. Chinese media said the visit failed to produce a joint statement among leaders for the first time since the nations established formal diplomatic ties in 1992.

Tourism stocks slumped in Friday trading in Seoul even as the benchmark Kospi index gained. Hotel Shilla Co. fell 1.1 per cent, bringing its weekly loss to 6 per cent. Cosmetics company Amorepacific Corp., which benefits from an influx of tourists seeking its products, slid 2.8 per cent, heading toward its worst week since September.