Sino-S.Korean tourism and retail sectors see resurgence following a tense year over THAAD

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/13 18:33:40

Airlines, travel agencies report resuming cross-border flights and packages

Chinese and Korean ministries of foreign affairs announced last month the recovery of relations for the first time since THAAD

There are immediate signs of improvement, such as advertisements for airlines and travel agencies

Many citizens are still critical of South Korea. Expert says the key to true recovery is mutual respect and cultivating mutual interests

A market on Jeju Island uses eye-striking scrolls written in Chinese, Korean and other languages to attract customers during the post-THAAD period. Photo: VCG

Two weeks after China and South Korea formally announced plans to recover their relationship, there are already budding signs of improvement. Chinese travel agencies are tentatively considering bringing back South Korean tourism packages and Korean shops are offering better deals for Chinese customers.

At a joint conference between the Chinese and the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on October 31, officials declared that both sides will push for the development of strategic relations. After a very tense year due to the deployment of the US anti-missile Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, the two neighbors now agree that it is in everyone's best interests to improve their relationship.

This decision is being hailed by leaders, experts and citizens from both countries.

Gradual recovery

For Chinese and Koreans working in the tourism sector, no other news could be more welcome. China's BTG International Travel told the Global Times that their travel packages to South Korea were halted following THAAD, but it can be brought back instantly if needed. Staff members from China Youth Travel Service told the Global Times that their programs will likely be re-launched by February of next year.

China's Spring Airlines announced on its official website it has restarted flights from Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, to Korea's Jeju Island, which were halted in July due to a drastic reduction of Chinese passengers after THAAD.

According to Reuters, the Korean counterpart Asiana Airlines is offering discounted tickets from China to cities in South Korea on Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's Alitrip website between November 11 and 15, as well as free airport lounge passes for passengers transiting at Seoul's Incheon Airport.

Korea's local Kyonggi government announced it will participate in an international tourism expo to be held in Kunming, Yunnan Province, this month to advertise its winter travel packages in the hopes of attracting Chinese consumers.

Korean e-retailers jumped all over China's Double 11 Day shopping festival last week. On November 11, Korea's duty-free shop Hanwha Galleria ran a promotion to get Chinese consumers to click on banner advertisements of its Chinese website, offering rewards for the first 111 customers. Doota Duty Free shop provided store credit on its Chinese online mall for 1,111 people every day leading up to November 11.

A spokesperson from South Korean Lotte Corp said last week that the Chengdu government recently approved the second phase of construction for one of its real estate development projects. The project, a collection of shopping malls, movie theaters and residential areas, was halted earlier in the year as a result of the THAAD fallout.

Grass-roots organizations and think tanks are also organizing trips and exchanges between the two nations. On November 6, media commentators and bloggers led by China's think tank Chahar Institute headed to Seoul at the invitation of the Korea Foundation, which is under the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Last Wednesday, the association arranged for a team of monks to perform martial arts at the 70th anniversary celebration of Kyonggi University.

The entertainment sector is also expected to join in following what many claimed was a Chinese government ban on South Korean entertainment and stars. Even though there are no current signs of recovery for once-popular Korean dramas on China's video streaming sites, which were ditched en masse by Chinese viewers, Korean entertainers are gradually returning to China's local television. Korean all-female group Mamamoo took part in Sichuan TV's music program on November 1, according to media reports.

This series of changes is welcomed by the public. One Chinese citizen who often purchases Korean products told the Global Times that she is glad to hear the news. She looks forward to Chinese travel agencies re-starting their package trips soon so that she can go shopping and sightseeing in South Korea. "I think it's great when both sides can make money; it's a win-win situation," she said.


Utterly devoid of customers

Li Kaisheng, a research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times the relationship recovery is something to be praised. He hopes to see tourism, economic and cultural exchanges pick up the pace and normalize to the way things were before THAAD.

"A long-term stalemate is not in the interest of developing bilateral relations and harms the stability of the entire region. It certainly does not help with the urgent denuclearization issue," he said.

After Korea decided to deploy THAAD last year, many businesses and individuals on both sides were affected in the aftermath. The most obvious effects were seen in the tourism sector. Travel agencies and tourism sites stopped providing trip packages to South Korea, and some airlines reduced routes. One guide told the Global Times she used to lead four trips per month to Korea, but after THAAD she was lucky to make one trip.

Statistics from the China National Tourism Administration showed on its website that due to the THAAD issue, the number of Chinese visitors to South Korea was only 7.76 million from January to July this year, down 20.9 percent year-on-year.

When this Global Times reporter visited Jeju Island in May, few Chinese tourists were seen. The streets were literally empty, and shops with Chinese-language signs, including the island's largest duty-free shops, were utterly devoid of customers.

The situation also affected individuals. A post written by a Chinese citizen on question-and-answer site Zhihu (China's version of Quora) in October 2016 asked whether it was the right choice for him to transfer to a Korean company due to the tension caused by THAAD. Most of the post's commentators suggested holding off on switching jobs due to the bad timing.

Lotte also had a rough few months following THAAD. Ever since news broke out that the company had offered its land for THAAD deployment, its shops in China faced boycotts and protests from local consumers. In September, the company reportedly considered selling off its supermarket operations in China due to bleak business prospects.

Mutual respect and interests

Many Chinese and Korean consumers look forward to the recovery of relations, but just as many are expressing their discontent, saying South Korea was let off the hook too easily. One irate netizen wrote, "I don't care how the government deals with this, but THAAD is still threatening my country. Under this circumstance, I still will boycott Korean products."

Li said it is normal for the Chinese public to feel this way, as they might think that their boycotts and protests failed to achieve any satisfactory results. "But in diplomatic relations, both sides need to respect each other and carry out affairs in a way both sides can accept. So the current situation is normal and should be understood," he said.

South Korea and China said that they will communicate about THAAD through military channels in the future and handle related issues.

Li thinks there are a few important issues that still must be addressed if Sino-Korean relations have any hope for a steady recovery. The Korean side, for instance, needs to respect Chinese interests; both sides need to cultivate more mutual benefits, such as trade, in order to strengthen the relationships; and, of course, push for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

How Sino-Korean relations were affected by THAAD

July 8, 2016

South Korea agrees to let US deploy Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs protests.

August, 2016

Rumors spread about a Chinese government ban on Korean entertainment, one of its most profitable soft-powers in China.

November 21, 2016

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang says there is no ban on Korean entertainment.

February 24, 2017

All Korean entertainment shows for 2017 are taken off from Chinese video and online streaming sites.

February 27, 2017

Korean retail conglomerate Lotte agrees to provide its land for THAAD deployment.

March and April, 2017

Waves of protests hit Lotte Mart stores in China. Most Chinese travel agencies and airlines cancel South Korean travel packages.

September 14, 2017

Due to bleak profits, Lotte considers selling off its supermarket operations in China.

October 31, 2017

Chinese and South Korean officials formally announce recovery of relations.

Newspaper headline: The way we were

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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