Lotte’s Thaad dilemmaThe government’s plan to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile system on a golf course in Seongju county, North Gyeongsang, has hit a snag. Lotte Group, owner of the golf course, agreed with the Ministry of National Defense last year to exchange the site with a plot of land in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, owned by the military. But the fifth largest conglomerate in Korea is dragging its feet on signing the deal because of China’s pressure and political reasons.
Lotte says that the Chinese government conducted fire safety and sanitation checks as well as tax investigations on more than 150 outlets of Lotte Department Store and Lotte Mart in China. Chen Hai, deputy director general in the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Asia Affairs Department, visited Seoul in December and warned Lotte and executives of other chaebol that if the Thaad system is deployed in South Korea, it could cause serious problems with cooperation between Seoul and Beijing.
Following Chen’s trip to Seoul, a group of lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Party went to Beijing on Jan. 4 to deliver their hopes for a delay in the deployment. Former head of the opposition Moon Jae-in, the frontrunner in polls ahead of a presidential election this year, joined the chorus by insisting on a reconsideration of the deployment.
We understand Lotte’s concerns in such circumstances. It has to maintain a good relationship with Beijing for its success in the Chinese market, not to mention a need to act in harmony with the frontrunner in the polls. But think about it: Even if Lotte could delay the provision of the site this time, can it do the same next time? What if North Korea takes South Korea hostage with a new threat of nuclear missiles?
If another conflict over our security arises in the future, the repercussions will no doubt hit other companies too. Security must be separated from economics. Lotte also needs to take a different approach to politicians. It’s a business — not a political force.
Thaad is a crucial tool to protect not only U.S. forces here but also our people. China’s meddling in our sovereign affairs goes beyond international norms. Beijing’s action to punish Lotte for our government’s deployment decision is not compatible with China’s status as a big country.
Our political circles must not take advantage of a security issue for their own political gains at the risk of our people’s lives. We urge our defense ministry and Lotte to resolve the conflict over the site as soon as possible.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 18, Page 30