Stop Beijing’s pressureAt Monday’s board meeting, Lotte Group voted in favor of handing over its golf course nestled among mountains of Seongju County in North Gyeongsang to the military as a site to host the battery of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system. The fifth largest local conglomerate has been stalling its final say to the decision in fear of damages to its operations in China. Lotte will be signing a contract with the Defense Ministry to exchange Lotte Skyhill Country Club for a military site in Namyangju in Gyeonggi. The U.S. missile defense system could be deployed by June at the earliest.
Beijing could go blatant with its retaliation to Lotte. The Chinese media is mixed. The Global Times, run by its state newspaper People’s Daily, bluntly told Lotte to leave China if it cannot change its position in its Chinese edition. But its English edition carried a commentary advising “a careful evaluation” on sanctions against Lotte, which runs department and discount stores and lifestyle brands in China. The article reminded readers of the losses from the sanctions as Lotte runs 120 large-scale supermarket chains and has 700 Chinese employees.
Lotte is also planning to build a theme park in Shenyang that could create jobs for tens of thousands. Jobs of working-class Chinese and an array of Chinese suppliers and business partners to Lotte would be at stake if the Korean company is hurt and pushed out of the market, the English commentary warned. Voices of sense may be building up in China.
The economies of South Korea and China have been growing reciprocally. The Chinese government must consider the ramifications against jobs and consumers if it hits a private enterprise in a political vendetta. Beijing is losing its rationale to go on opposing to the Thaad deployment with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un turning more and more provocative with missile saber-rattling and the public assassination of his half-brother.
If China continues to intimidate Lotte, it could risk triggering anti-Chinese sentiment in Korea too. No one will gain anything from the skirmish.
The government must continue its diplomatic endeavors so that a private company is not hurt by a public decision to defend sovereignty and security.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 28, Page 38