BEIJING – Chinese state media have reacted with anger and boycott threats after the board of an affiliate of South Korea’s Lotte Group approved a land swap with the government that allows authorities to deploy a U.S. missile defense system.
The government decided last year to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, in response to the North Korean missile threat, on land that is part of a golf course owned by Lotte in the Seongju region, southeast of Seoul.
The board of unlisted Lotte International Co Ltd approved the deal with the government on Monday.
China objects to the deployment in South Korea of the THAAD, which has a powerful radar capable of penetrating Chinese territory, with Beijing saying it is a threat to its security and will do nothing to ease tension with North Korea.
Lotte should be shown the door in China, the influential state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial on Tuesday.
“We also propose that Chinese society should coordinate voluntarily in expanding restrictions on South Korean cultural goods and entertainment exports to China, and block them when necessary,” it said in its English-language edition.
The paper’s Chinese version said South Korean cars and cellphones should be targeted as well.
“There are loads of substitutes for South Korean cars and cellphones,” it said.
China has already twice issued “solemn representations” to South Korea about the most recent THAAD-related developments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily briefing in Beijing.
But it welcomes foreign companies to operate in China, he said. “Whether or not a foreign company can operate successfully in China, in the end is a decision for the Chinese market and consumer,” he added.
Late on Monday, the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said cutting diplomatic ties should be considered.
“If THAAD is really deployed in South Korea, then China-South Korea relations will face the possibility of getting ready to cut off diplomatic relations,” it said on the WeChat account of its overseas edition.
The official Xinhua news agency also said in a commentary late on Monday that China “did not welcome this kind of Lotte”.
“Chinese consumers can absolutely say no to this kind of company and their goods based on considerations of ‘national security’,” it said.
South Korea’s defence ministry said on Tuesday it had signed a land swap deal, with Lotte exchanging the golf course for military property. A South Korean military official told Reuters the military would begin area patrols and install fences.
The Lotte Group said on Feb. 8 Chinese authorities had stopped construction at a multi-billion dollar real estate project in China after a fire inspection, fuelling concern in South Korea about damage to commercial ties with the world’s second-largest economy.
Asked if South Korea had demanded the Chinese government suspend any economic retaliation, South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun said: “We have continuously persuaded China so far and will keep continuing efforts to do so.”
South Korean government officials have said THAAD is a defensive measure against North Korean threats and does not target any other country.
South Korea’s central bank said this month the number of Chinese tourists visiting the tourist island of Jeju had fallen 6.7 percent over the Lunar New Year holiday from last year, partly because of China’s “anti-South Korea measures due to the THAAD deployment decision”.
By Ben Blanchard – Reuters
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)