BEIJING—China is suspending some tourism to the Philippines and increasing inspections on fruit imports in an apparent bid to use economic pressure to end a standoff over a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
The Shanghai Tourism Bureau recently ordered tours to the Philippines suspended indefinitely, according to staff with the Yiyou and Guojikuaixian travel agencies in the eastern financial hub.
Nationwide online agency Ctrip.com has also suspended trips due to safety concerns, an agent said, citing “anti-China sentiments in that country right now.” She said the company acted on its own without official orders.
None of the agents would give their names because of the sensitivity of the matter. Calls to China’s national tourism administration rang unanswered on Thursday.
The suspensions come as China’s embassy in Manila issued a safety warning to its nationals in the Philippines over planned protests there asserting Philippines rights over disputed Scarborough Shoal, where boats from China and the Philippines have been engaged in a month-long standoff.
Meanwhile, China’s food safety watchdog has ordered stiffer inspections of banana, pineapples and other fruit imported from the Philippines. The agricultural sector is around 12 percent of the Philippine economy, but the impact may be small as China is not a primary market. Chinese tourists also make up around nine percent of total arrivals to the Philippines, according to the Philippines national tourism administration.
The economic squeezing follows growing diplomatic pressure from Beijing and a raft of fiery editorials in Chinese state media. Beijing has summoned Manila’s charge d’affairs to hear protests three times in recent weeks, while retired and serving military officers have penned calls for a limited military operation to shore up China’s credibility on the matter.
China and the Philippines are among six claimants to waters and island groups in the South China Sea, which boasts some of the world’s most heavily traveled maritime lanes, rich fishing grounds, and a potential wealth of mineral resources.
The latest standoff between Beijing and Manila began April 10 when the Philippine navy accused Chinese boats of fishing illegally around Scarborough.