China is still banning tour groups from visiting South Korea despite pledges to mend ties

“New Era” in China-South Korean relations looks a lot like old one

South Korean duty-free shop owners, we have bad news. Turns out that the good times may not be back after all.

At the end of October, China and South Korea pledged to normalize relations following a year-long standoff over Seoul’s installation of the US-backed THAAD missile defense system. That dispute wreaked serious havoc on South Korea’s tourism sector with Beijing banning Chinese tour groups from traveling to the country.

Despite earlier media reports that Chinese tourists would soon start flooding back into South Korea as ties were mended, the country’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported on Wednesday that, in fact, the ban is back in full force.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports that Chinese authorities have rejected a request by oneChinese tour operator to take a group of Chinese tourists to South Korea later this week.

These reports have been backed up by a representative from a South Korean tour operator who told Reuters that China’s ban on group tours had not been lifted.

“I was told by my boss this morning that our Chinese partners [based in Beijing and Shandong] said they won’t send group tourists to South Korea as of January,” the representative said.

It has also been confirmed by the South China Morning Post, who spoke with a travel agent in Beijing.

“We haven’t heard any updates from the National Tourism Administration so group tours to South Korea remain unavailable,” the agent said.

Faced with a nuclear-obsessed neighbor, Seoul sees the THAAD system as necessary to its own survival. Meanwhile, Beijing views it as a threat to China’s national security and vowed earlier this year to take “countermeasures” after Seoul refused to reconsider.

In March, Chinese travel agencies were banned from sending tour groups to South Korea and Chinese travel companies were pressured to cut down on flights and cruises between China and South Korea. In one particularly sensational incident, 3,400 Chinese tourists simply refused to set foot on South Korean soil after their cruise ship docked at the resort island of Jeju — once one of the world’s top destinations for Chinese tourists.

As you can imagine, this all dealt a heavy blow to South Korea’s tourism sector, which relies on millions of high-spending Chinese tourists visiting the country and going shopping. Last year, more than 8 million Chinese visited South Korea. This year, the number is likely to be less than half of that.

News of the continued tour group ban comes just after South Korean President Moon Jae-in made his first trip to Beijing to meet with Xi Jinping, calling the beginning of a “new era” in relations with China.

That “new era” had an inauspicious start last Thursday when a Korean journalist was beaten bloody by more than a dozen security guards in Beijing at a trade event attended by Moon