BEIJING – The number of round-trip flights by Chinese airlines linking cities in China and Japan has topped 1,000 per week, with China regaining top spot from South Korea in the frequency of flight connections with Japan, a Japanese government source said Tuesday.
Behind the rise is a bilateral accord in September to relax rules on Chinese airlines’ round-trip flights, pushing them up by more than 230, to about 1,130 — an all-time record — for the winter timetable that started on Oct. 27, compared with the summer schedule.
China last ranked first in the number of round-trip flights to Japan in the 2009 summer season.
Narita Airport near Tokyo had limited Chinese airlines’ round-trip flights to 99 per week, but the figure soared to 210 after regulations were eased. The number is expected to expand further, reaching 310 next March and 410 in March 2021.
“We’ve already received demands (from Chinese airlines) for more than 310 (round-trip) flights” per week, said the government source.
Similarly, Tokyo’s Haneda Airport will relax regulations on the number of Chinese airlines’ flights next March.
On Sept. 2, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry agreed with the Civil Aviation Administration of China to loosen regulations on Chinese airlines’ flights to and from Narita Airport in stages.
They also agreed to eliminate restrictions on the number of flights to and from Beijing and Shanghai at Japanese regional airports.
“Japan will absorb China’s robust demand for visiting Japan,” the government source said.
The Japanese government aims to attract 40 million visitors in 2020, and the increase in Chinese airlines’ flights could make up for a recent series of flight cancellations by South Korean airlines amid worsening bilateral ties.
The number of visitors from China in the January-September period was estimated at 7.4 million, up 14.8 percent from a year before and accounting for about 30 percent of the total, according to data from the Japan National Tourism Organization.
In September alone, Chinese travelers topped the list of foreign visitors at 819,100, up 25.5 percent from a year earlier.
By contrast, the number of South Korean visitors to Japan plunged 58.1 percent in September from a year earlier to 201,200, according to figures released last month by the Japan Tourism Agency.
Tokyo-Seoul ties have worsened sharply since South Korean court rulings late last year ordered Japanese firms to pay compensation for wartime forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945. Japan maintains its position that the issue of compensation was settled by a 1965 bilateral agreement.
The increase in Chinese visitors to Japan, however, also has a risk of a sudden downturn if bilateral relations worsen, as China has in the past curbed group or individual trips to regions where ties had deteriorated.
A Chinese scholar well-versed in China-Japan relations said bilateral ties could worsen easily. “If a sensitive issue arises, it could ignite (bad) feelings (toward Japan) and the relations can go downhill immediately.”
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