Time to end Lotte’s identity crisisWhen I was in high school in the mid-1980s, I read a success story of Lotte founder Shin Kyuk-ho in a newspaper and was deeply moved. The article caught my attention as I was a fan of the Lotte Giants. While I have mixed feelings about the baseball team now, Shin was still a business giant to me. However, I now need to change my perception.
It may be meaningless to discuss the nationality of a company, but if we must, let’s say that a company established according to Korean law is a Korean company. So Lotte Group is a Korean company and Japan Lotte Holdings is a Japanese company. But things get complicated when a Japanese company controls a Korean company, which is the case with Lotte today. Although Lotte chairman Shin Dong-bin claims Lotte is a Korean company, it cannot be free from identity controversy when it is controlled by a Japanese enterprise.
The Lotte family feud is garnering such attention because the company’s identity involves political and social issues. For example, if the territorial disputes over the Dokdo islets aggravate and Japan’s far-rightist trend provokes Korea, can Lotte confidently support Korea? If Japan’s Lotte wants to control Korea’s Lotte, with revenue 15 times larger, they should at least show love for Korea. But they haven’t. Most notably, Shin Dong-joo, the eldest son of Shin Kyuk-ho, does not speak Korean. He explained that he had studied the language but forgot it because he was so busy with work. But it seems Korea does not exist as a home country in his conscience.
Also, the Shin family is well connected in business and politics in Japan. According to Lotte, founder and general chairman Shin Kyuk-ho is close to Shintaro Abe, former foreign minister and father of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, Abe’s grandfather and a “Class A” war crime suspect. Last month, chairman Shin Dong-bin had a meeting with Prime Minister Abe in Japan. So we cannot shake off the suspicion on Lotte’s identity.
Which leads to other doubts. Chairman Shin Dong-bin’s eldest son had a small wedding in March. Perhaps, he didn’t want to publicize that his son, a Japanese national, is marrying a Japanese woman? Although it was cancelled because of public outrage, why did the Lotte Hotel provide a venue for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces event? They may be independent incidents, but Lotte has certainly allowed room for suspicion.
People increasingly wonder whether the members of the Lotte family have their minds rooted in Japan. And the suspicion will only grow generation after generation. Three of the four grandparents of Shin Dong-bin’s children are Japanese.
The fastest way to clear the suspicion is to sever the connection between Lotte entities in Korea and Japan. Trying to please Japanese shareholders while claiming to be a Korean company is an ugly sight. We ask Shin Kyuk-ho not to let the tail wag the dog any more. With 95 percent of the company’s revenue coming from Korea, the owners’ minds should associate with Korea.
The author is a business news reporter for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 5, Page 30
by KIM JUN-HYUN