SEOUL, April 2 (Korea Bizwire) — Japan has been a beneficiary of the strained national ties between South Korea and China over the installation of a U.S. defense missile system (THAAD), with South Korean tourists more inclined to spend their days off in the island nation rather than an unfriendly China.
From January until February, more South Koreans visited Japan than visitors from any other nation according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. The number of South Koreans who went to Japan surged by 23.4 percent compared to the same period last year to hit 1.51 million, overtaking the 1.34 million Chinese tourists who also visited Japan in the earlier part of the year.
Last year marked a massive uptick in South Koreans visiting their eastern neighbors, as 2016′s 5.09 million visitors increased to 7.14 million in 2017, a jump of 40.3 percent.
Besides the Chinese ban on tourism to South Korea, the Japanese government easing the visa process and providing tax-free incentives have been described as factors that have driven up South Koreans’ recent love affair with travel to Japan.
A South Korean tourism industry insider said, “In the earlier part of last year up to March before the Chinese government issued the travel ban to South Korea, China was still a major tourist destination for South Koreans. However, after an anti-Korea sentiment began to be espoused by some Chinese, more South Koreans opted to visit Japan.”
This insider added, “If China doesn’t drop the controls in place to punish South Korea for THAAD, Japan’s ‘South Korean tourist boom’ may only accelerate in growth.”
Standing for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, the “THAAD” missile systems are a defensive measure against North Korean belligerence whose placement on the South Korean end of the peninsula has angered Beijing. South Korea’s refusal to remove the weaponry resulted in Chinese bans on tourism and cultural products that weighed heavily on South Korea’s economy.
The respective leaders of both nations agreed last November to normalize relations after South Korea made a number of concessions, one of which was a promise to abstain from joining a military alliance with the U.S. and Japan.
Lina Jang (firstname.lastname@example.org)