About 3,300 Chinese tourists refused to leave their cruise ship at the South Korean resort island of Jeju on Saturday in a spontaneous protest against Seoul’s decision to deploy a US anti-missile system.
Seoul plans to install the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system as a shield in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. But Beijing is concerned that THAAD will breach its fences, prompting official protests and boycotts of South Korean products.
About 80 tour buses and guides had to cancel their services on Saturday when the Chinese tourists refused to disembark for the scheduled stop at Jeju, South Korea’s Yonhap News reported.
The report said the local travel agency organising the stop was not notified of the passengers’ decision prior to their arrival, and it was the first time that such a large group had refused to disembark at Jeju since the route was opened in the late 1990s.
The 114,000-tonne Costa Serena, managed by Italian firm Costa Cruises, sailed from Fukuoka in Japan and arrived at Jeju at around 1pm on Saturday. It stayed at the island for about four hours before heading off for Tianjin, the trip’s final stop.
A Jeju official was quoted as saying that smaller groups of Chinese tourists had refused to disembark in Jeju in recent days but the scale of this protest was surprising.
The boycott follows Beijing’s orders to mainland travel agencies to stop offering tours to South Korea from last Wednesday, including flights, hotels and cruises.
In line with the orders, Costa Cruises has cancelled 26 sailings to Jeju from the middle of this month to the end of June.
In social media posts, the passengers on the Costa Serena – all staff on a company trip – said the decision not to get off at the island was their own.
Photos and posts by passengers who said they were firmly against disembarking were liked and shared thousands of times. Most of the online comments on the issue were in support of the group’s decision.
“Let’s show the Koreans the power of our unity … They will understand that their economy is dependent on us,” a Weibo commenter wrote.
In addition to Costa Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruises has announced that it will cancel South Korean port visits by their China-based cruises, citing “recent developments regarding the situation in South Korea”.
The National Tourism Administration last week warned tourists heading to South Korea to “carefully select” their destination.