More than 3,000 Chinese passengers aboard an international cruise liner have refused to go ashore at Jeju in South Korea, following a travel ban reportedly issued by Beijing on March 3 to protest the deployment of a new U.S. missile defense system in South Korea.

The Costa Serena made port at Jeju Island at 1 p.m. on March 11 and was initially scheduled to leave for Tianjin, China at 9 p.m. However, due to the Chinese passengers’ refusal to disembark, the cruise liner left Jeju Island four hours earlier than planned.

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Around 80 tour buses and dozens of tour guides waited in vain for the passengers to go ashore, The Korea Bizwire reports. A Jeju government spokesperson told the Chosun Ilbo that officials only found out the passengers would not be disembarking after the ship docked.

The U.S. and South Korea say that the THAAD anti-ballistic system is being deployed to protect against incoming missiles from North Korea, but Chinese officials worry that the system may be used against China.

The Chinese passengers were on a company sponsored trip, but the name of the company was withheld, The Korea Bizwire reports. One woman, claiming to be from the company posted a comment on a Weibo post about the incident, saying, “the Jeju tour was booked before the THAAD incident, but our company, as one voice, chose to support the country.”

Thirty other passengers from Italy, Germany and Ukraine reportedly also chose not to disembark, according to The Korea Bizwire.

Many Chinese netizens showed support for the passengers, praising them for displaying unity and national pride.

Meanwhile, Costa Crociere, the company that owns the Costa Serena, has canceled all 26 trips — carrying approximately 120,000 visitors — to Jeju Island from March 16 to June 30, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reports.

The Chinese boycott of South Korean exports intensified after Chinese state media began calling for the boycott of Korean conglomerate Lotte, which on Feb.28 agreed to give up a golf course it owns on Jeju Island to store a THAAD battery.

Chinese have since gone out of their way to boycott not only Lotte products and stores, but also Korean made cars, smartphones and instant noodles . A video showing a woman crushing and eating then replacing Lotte food products in a Lotte store in China has also been shared on Facebook.

China’s tourism administration issued written instructions calling for group tours to South Korea to be canceled beginning March 15; however, individual trips will not be affected. South Korea’s hotel industry has also been affected by the ban, with hotels owned by Lotte seeing a 30 percent cancellation rate.

Chosun Ilbo reports that more than half of the flights scheduled between Jeju Island and 14 cities in China will be canceled or suspended beginning March 15.

South Korea saw 8 million Chinese tourists in 2016, and 70 percent of Lotte Duty Free’s income comes from Chinese tourists. Beijing’s travel ban is expected to contribute to a 60 percent drop in Chinese tourists to Korea.

China last year banned K-pop stars from performing in China, and several popular television shows have also been removed from Chinese video streaming sites.

Editor: Edward White