China rejects applications for chartered flights from South Korea
No reason is given, but decision is thought to be linked to Beijing’s displeasure over Seoul’s planned deployment of US anti-missile defence system
The Chinese government has disapproved applications for chartered flights departing from Korea, domestic airlines and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport confirmed on Sunday.
Chinese aviation authorities rejected eight flights of Asiana Airlines, Jeju Air and Jin Air last week to destinations on the mainland for January. Chartered flights are serviced when there are surplus demands, such as during China’s national holidays. Lunar New Year, a major holiday in China, is coming at the end of this month.
“There have been cases in which flights of a certain carrier or route were rejected for safety reasons, but it is unprecedented for a whole group of flights of various carriers and routes to be disapproved,” said Kim Jung-hee, director of international air transport at the ministry.
In addition, it appears Chinese carriers may also withdraw applications for charted flights to Korea.
“China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Air told us to hold their applications following their government’s disapproval of charted flights from Korea,” Kim said. “Although we have yet to hear from them, it seems likely they will withdraw their applications in line with the Chinese government’s rejections.”
Chinese authorities did not specify the reason behind the disapproval. There is speculation that the measures could be retaliation for Korea’s decision last year to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system (THAAD) to shield Pyongyang’s military threats. China is opposed to the US anti-missile defence system in Korea, claiming it will destroy the regional security balance.
Beijing is Seoul’s largest trading partner and the Chinese account for the largest number of tourists to Korea. Since Seoul’s announcement to deploy THAAD last July, China has taken a number of measures that appear to be hostile towards Korea.
In September, the Chinese Embassy in Korea raised the eligibility for business visa applicants. In November, Korea’s fifth-largest conglomerate Lotte found its China units faced unusual tax audit and safety inspections, which were seen as a retaliatory measure against the group which provided the site for the THAAD deployment.
Beijing has also restricted Seoul’s considerable cultural presence in the mainland, such as ordering broadcasters not to air Korean dramas and restricting the appearance of Korean stars on local media.
The Chinese government’s rejection of chartered flights from Korea is seen as another means of pressuring Seoul over THAAD.
However, the official at Korea’s land ministry said, “This is speculation, and the government is seeking to figure out China’s motive.”
The ministry last week attempted to reach Chinese authorities through the Korean Embassy in Seoul, but said it failed to receive a response.
“We expect China’s carriers to get back to us concerning the matter this week. In the meantime, we plan to speak with domestic carriers on Tuesday,” Kim said.
The cancellation of chartered flights between Beijing and Seoul will likely affect the number of Chinese tourists visiting South Korea during the Lunar New Year holiday.
“Domestic carriers will see a fall in sales, but the tourism industry will probably be more significantly affected,” the official said.