People, Travel

China Accused of Playing Politics With Tourism

China's political differences with Taiwan and South Korea are said to be affecting the flow of Chinese tourists to those countries.China's political differences with Taiwan and South Korea are said to be affecting the flow of Chinese tourists to those countries.

With six million Chinese tourists expected to travel abroad over the Lunar New Year break, China's Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 holiday is crucial for Taiwan tour agency operator Li Chi-yueh who relies on mainland visitors for a third of his revenue.

But Li's hopes are not high this year, after the number of mainland tourists plummeted 36% since President Tsai Ing-wen took power in May, Reuters reported. 

Though Tsai says Taiwan wants peace with China, Beijing suspects she seeks formal independence.

"China uses its sightseeing tourists as a diplomatic weapon," said Li, owner of Taipei-based Chung Shin Travel Service, who has been representing Taiwan's tour operators to lobby Tsai to improve ties with Beijing. 

"There's a lot of concern that the industry won't survive, if we carry on like this."

The concern is not confined to Taiwan; tour operators and government officials elsewhere in Asia say they fear China is using its increasingly high-spending tourists as a lever to pressure or reward its neighbors. A government official from South Korea, which has irked China by agreeing to let the United States deploy an anti-missile system, said Chinese and Korean tour companies had told him the China National Tourism Administration had instructed Chinese agencies to cut tours to South Korea by at least 20% between November and February.

The official calculated that thousands of potential travelers were lost after eight applications to add charter flights between the countries in January and February were rejected without explanation. "This is not a win-win situation; it is mutually disadvantageous. But what can we do? As far as defense is concerned, we have no room to compromise," said the official, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Chinese companies told him the measure was designed to cut an excessive number of low-quality, low-priced tours for Chinese tourists visiting Korea, the official said. 

China has not said it is seeking to limit tourists to South Korea or Taiwan to express displeasure at political disputes.

Earlier this month, when asked about the limiting of charter flights over Lunar New Year, China's Foreign Ministry said it did not understand the details of the situation but that cooperation and exchanges between the two countries needed to "have a basis in public opinion".

For Taiwan, China has said it was natural that Chinese tourists were choosing not to visit Taiwan at a time of political uncertainly.

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