Southeast Asian nations near or in territory China illegally claims as its own, including Indonesia and the Philippines, have hesitated to suspend visa-free entry for Chinese citizens amid the outbreak of a deadly coronavirus.
China regularly uses its military power to intimidate its neighbors. Manila, in particular, has retreated from confrontation with Beijing.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who is subject to widespread criticism in his country for building a subservient relationship with Beijing (once even suggesting that the Philippines should become a Chinese colony), explained that ending visa-free travel would be unfair because China has not imposed a similar measure against Filipinos.
“[It is hard to say that] you suspend everything because they are not also suspending theirs and they continue to respect the freedom flights that we enjoy,” Duterte told reporters on Wednesday.
His reluctance was echoed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque, who argued that China might question why they were not imposing the same restriction on other countries reporting cases of the coronavirus.
“If we do this, then the concerned country — China in this case — might question why we’re not doing the same for other countries that have reported confirmed cases of a novel coronavirus,” said Duque in the House of Representatives.
Sporadic reports of the virus have also been confirmed in 20 other countries, including Australia, France, and Canada, although China is the source of the vast majority (over 6,100) of confirmed cases. The virus usually triggers flu-like symptoms: fever, headaches, fatigue, and coughing, among others, and there is no specific treatment.
In nearby Indonesia, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly warned that they cannot abruptly suspend its visa-free policy for Chinese nationals because it did not affect the whole of China and may damage diplomatic relations with Beijing.
“We have received such requests, but we need to be selective. We will further discuss it with more specific details,” Yasonna told journalists on Tuesday. “Not all regions [in China] are affected [by the coronavirus]. We also need to take diplomatic relations into account.”
Yassona’s comments despite has long been at diplomatic loggerheads with Beijing over their claims to the South China Sea as China steps up its military presence across the region. “We understand the situation has shocked not only Indonesia but also many other countries,” he continued. “We hope the Chinese government can resolve it soon.”
On Monday, the governments of Malaysia and Singapore suspended all visa facilities for Chinese tourists from Wuhan and Hubei as well as nearby provinces in China in response to the outbreak. The Prime Minister of neighboring Kazakhstan ordered his government to suspend 72-hour visa-free entry for Chinese citizens, as the immediate evacuation of Kazakh’s from that region if they so desire. Mongolia shut its border with China entirely.
Over the past week, President Donald Trump has faced calls to suspend all travel from China until the virus is under control. In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar obtained by Breitbart News, Republican Senator and China hawk Tom Cotton warned that “measures such as screening all travelers from the People’s Republic of China and, if necessary, banning entry to those traveling from China must be contemplated and prepared in order to keep Americans safe.”