Why Chinese Nationals Are Boarding Flights to South Korea with Rice Bags
① Chinese Nationals Selling Chinese Rice in Korea
A growing trend among Chinese nationals has caught attention, involving loading rice onto planes bound for Korea, akin to a spreading cultural phenomenon. Recently, there has been a noticeable surge in Chinese passengers embarking on flights departing from Qingdao Airport en route to Korea, carrying grains along with them. This peculiar phenomenon has given rise to a novel term: “food passengers.”
Unlike typical tourists, food passengers specialize in selling grains, primarily operating between China and Korea. They board flights to Korea solely to transport and sell grains to Chinese residents living in Korea. Their method involves carrying vacuum-sealed bags brimming with grains, not just within their checked luggage but also as carry-on items, which has sparked some controversy.
On average, each of these food passengers carries approximately 30 – 50kg (66 to 110 pounds) of grains onboard, and there have been reports of damage to overhead luggage compartments due to the weight of these grain-filled bags. Understandably, this practice has led to mounting frustration among airlines.
As the number of passengers traveling to Korea to engage in grain sales continues to rise, the issue appears to be escalating and warrants attention and consideration.
At Qingdao Airport, a male passenger’s actions were captured on camera as he forcefully threw his carry-on luggage and raised his voice in a heated exchange with airport staff. His frustration erupted when he was informed that he would not be allowed to board his flight. Consequently, this incident caused a one-hour delay to the scheduled flight.
According to the airline, the passenger’s denial of boarding was attributed to the excessive weight of his carry-on baggage. His bag, laden with numerous grain packages, notably rice, had surpassed the prescribed weight limit. Despite causing inconvenience to fellow passengers, the individual exhibited no remorse and persisted in vocally expressing his anger.
Further investigation revealed that the angry passenger was a member of an organization specializing in transporting grains to Korea. Their method involves delivering the grains to Korea and returning to China on the same day’s flight. Chinese residents residing in Korea intend to purchase the rice they carry, shedding light on this incident’s unique circumstances.
② Why They Flock to Qingdao Airport
The phenomenon of “food passengers” is predominantly observed on the Qingdao-Korea route, primarily owing to the short flight duration and comparatively affordable airfares for this particular route. These factors have made it an attractive choice for individuals engaged in the transportation of grains.
The trend has recently expanded, with food passengers increasingly gravitating toward Beijing Daxing Airport and Qingdao Jiaodong Airport. These passengers have been persistently shuttling between China and Korea for grain transportation purposes, signifying their sustained engagement in this unique trade. It is worth noting that a substantial number of them have likely achieved VIP status with the airlines, indicative of their regular and frequent travel activities within this niche market.
Chinese media have observed a notable reduction in transportation costs attributed to substantial discounts on round-trip airfares connecting Qingdao and Korea. This affordability factor has contributed to the burgeoning trade of individuals involved in grain transportation.
Typically, these individuals can check in 3 to 5 vacuum-sealed packages laden with grains as part of their complimentary checked luggage allowance. Additionally, they carry 1 to 2 such packages as free carry-on items. Passengers with elevated status or special arrangements may even be granted the privilege of checking in additional luggage.
Furthermore, reports have indicated that these travelers capitalize on their trips by purchasing duty-free goods in Korea, which they sell upon returning to China. This additional aspect of their activities underscores the economic dynamics within this unique industry.
③ Claiming High Prices in Korea as the Reason
The preference for Chinese rice among Chinese residents in Korea primarily stems from the significant price disparity. In Korea, rice costs range from 4,000 to 8,000 won (US$3-6) per kilogram, which is approximately 3 to 4 times the price of rice in China.
Korea’s domestic customs office restricts importing certain plants, fruits, vegetables, and agricultural and forest products. It prohibits the import of specific foods, as outlined on its official website. Despite these regulations, Chinese vendors persist in asserting that rice and potatoes can be imported into Korea and continue to offer Chinese rice for sale. Additionally, they import substantial quantities of chili powder, catering to the preferences of Chinese consumers.
Concerns have arisen regarding the potential introduction of various bacteria through imported grains. Some have argued that selling Chinese grains in Korea without adherence to customs procedures, including quarantine protocols, constitutes a clear violation of the law.
Importing seeds, including those of beans, rice, barley, and wheat, is prohibited in Korea. Dehusked rice represents an exception to this rule. However, caution is advised when importing rice, as it can carry rice weevils. The National Plant, Livestock, and Fisheries Quarantine Headquarters rigorously enforces quarantine measures on prohibited items to safeguard against introducing plant pests into the country.
By. Sung Min Seo