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S. Korea sees steep fall in Chinese visitors on THAAD spat

The number of Chinese tourists in South Korea more than halved last month from a year earlier, dragged down by China's ban on sales of Korea-bound trips amid a diplomatic row over a U.S. anti-missile system, the state tourism body said Monday.

   The tally of Chinese visitors came to 227,811 in April, down 66.6 percent from 682,318 recorded the previous year, according to the data by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). On a cumulative basis, the number dipped 25.8 percent on-year to 1.74 million.

   A total of 1.07 million foreigners visited South Korea last month, down 27.2 percent from a year ago, the KTO said.

   The sharp decline in Chinese tourists for April was widely expected as Beijing has banned its travel agencies since March 15 from selling trips to Korea, in an apparent retaliation for Seoul's deployment of U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), despite its strong objection. 

   The ban on trip sales, which has wrecked havoc on South Korean firms, especially the retail and duty-free sectors that rely heavily on Chinese customers, have yet to be lifted, although some claims have been made by travel industry and the Korean Embassy in China over possible signs of a diplomatic thaw after new President Moon Jae-in took office on May 10.

   Chinese visitors accounted for nearly half of some 17 million foreigners into the country in 2016.

   Korea also saw the number of Japanese tourists fall 5.4 percent on-year to 165,748 last month, due largely to intensifying geographical instability on the Korean Peninsula stemming from North Korea's evolving nuclear threats.

   In contrast, the tally on Taiwanese visitors gained 14.5 percent on-year to 79,203 on the back of robust demand for a trip to Korea during the spring season.    

   The number of outbound nationals recorded 1.49 million in April, down 8.7 percent from the previous year, according to the KTO. (Yonhap)