Effective this Monday, Japan has begun quarantining of all arrivals from South Korea and China for two weeks.
Tokyo is also nullifying short-term visas issued in those two countries until the end of March, and will not issue new visas, barring human rights reasons or other exceptions.
In response, South Korea is suspending tourism visa waivers for Japanese travelers starting this Monday.
"As of midnight March 9, the visa waiver program for Japan will be suspended and any visas already issued will lose effectiveness. Also, health checkups will now be included in the visa-issuing process, and medical checkup confirmation documents may be requested depending on the future situation."
Prior to this, Japanese could visit South Korea for 90 days without a visa.
Japan is also requesting that flights from South Korea only land at Narita Airport, 60 kilometers outside central Tokyo, or Kansai International Airport, near Osaka.
South Korea said it is "extremely regrettable" that Japan had "enforced the measures without prior notice" and that "these measures are unfriendly and unscientific."
Scientific or politically-motivated? The topic of our News In-depth tonight with Chung Ku-youn, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kangwon National University.
Professor Chung, welcome to the program.
The ratcheting up in travel curbs between Tokyo and Seoul was criticized as a "political spat" by Mike Ryan who heads the WHO's emergency response program. Noting that these restrictions are not helping in halting the spread of the virus, he said travel bans should be carefully considered, should be public health evidence driven and short-term.
In international relations, when is it understandable between countries to impose such travel restrictions in times of epidemic?
What does this two-way measure mean in international relations?
South Korea's top office explained its entry restriction decision against Japan on Sunday that they were drawn up with restraint and for the safety of the South Korean people.
"We made the decision based on a comprehensive review of Japan's passive quarantine measures, the ambiguous situation there as well as geographic proximity, level of human exchanges and the rising number of new confirmed cases in Japan."
The Blue House pointed out that, although South Korea is second only to China in the number of identified COVID-19 cases, while the entire world has praised South Korea for its testing capacity, scientific strength and transparency, global media, including the Japanese media have pointed Japan's attempt to cover up its failure to control the outbreak.
First of all, what do you believe is exactly the situation regarding COVID-19 outbreak in Japan?
More than 100 countries are banning or restricting the entry of South Korean travelers.
So far, Seoul is not known to have retaliated against any, but Tokyo.
Seoul has not enacted any such ban on China, only on visitors from hard-hit Hubei Province nor had it enacted any ban on Japan until Tokyo slapped this ban on Seoul.
Why is it just Japan that South Korea believes is acting on motives other than containing the outbreak? What do you believe is Tokyo's real motive behind this?
Despite Seoul's vow to slap reciprocal countermeasures against Tokyo, it appears South Korea has, so far, taken rather reserved measures.
Other than taking similar steps such as suspending the visa-waiver program or invalidating existing travel permits, South Korea didn't take any reciprocal measures vis-a-vis Japan's reduction of airports at which flights from South Korea can land and adding of entry ban for travelers from some areas from Gyeongsangbuk-do Province.
What is the diplomatic calculation there for South Korean officials in taking a milder approach?
Contrary to the South Korean government, the Japanese government has been quite mum about the latest decision since it last announced its own policy last week. Why is the Abe administration staying rather reserved while the Moon administration has been pretty vocal about not only the unjust nature of Tokyo's entry control, but in imposing its own countermeasures?
A shadow currently hanging over the two countries is whether a South Korean court will liquidate assets seized from Japanese firms in South Korea to compensate wartime forced laborers.
Japan insists that issue was handled as part of a diplomatic normalization treaty in 1968, with a compensation package worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Tokyo has warned that if the asset liquidation goes ahead, it will retaliate strongly.
Could this possibly help us understand what Seoul's foreign ministry meant when it said Tokyo's latest entry restriction was intended as something other than for quarantine purposes?
Do you think this latest conflict between Seoul and Tokyo could even push South Korea once again to try pulling out of its military intel-sharing pact with Japan? If so, how will Japan respond?
For three decades, Seoul and Tokyo have engaged in diplomatic spats over historical issues tied to Japan's 1910 to 1945 colonization of Korea. Those disputes leaped from the diplomatic space into the economic and security spheres last year, but the dispute has quietened down in recent months.
The economic sphere: do you foresee another boycott Japan spreading among South Koreans again?
It seems like I've been asking this question for decades, so even if not ultimately and not fundamentally, for the short, immediate term, how do South Korea and Japan remedy the relations?
Chung Ku-youn, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kangwon National University, thanks for speaking with us tonight. We appreciate it.