South Korea’s Lotte Group is finding itself uncomfortably in the middle of a bitter conflict between Beijing and Seoul, turning it into a prime target for Chinese nationalists, hackers and state media.
Earlier this week, the 5th largest South Korean conglomerate finally agreed to hand over its golf course in the rural southeastern county of Seongju to the government for the construction of the US-backed THAAD missile shield system. Facing a nuclear-obsessed neighbor, Seoul sees the system as necessary to its survival. At the same time, Beijing views it as a threat to its own national security and has vowed to take “countermeasures.”
Last week, China’s official Xinhua news agency urged Lotte to reject the THAAD deal, warning the group that it would lose Chinese customers if it did not. Yesterday, China Youth Daily published a report claiming that this is exactly what has happened, presenting photos of a Lotte department store in Shenyang, Liaoning province which they describe as deserted. On NetEase, the article has attracted over 350,000 comments with many ridiculing it as nothing more than propaganda. Some web users commented that they had just visited the mall and found it as crowded as always.
It’s not clear yet if Lotte has become a target for Chinese consumers’ legendary “patriotic fury,” but the company has found itself under attack from Chinese hackers with its Chinese website being inaccessible since Tuesday.
This is likely welcome news for the nationalistic Chinese tabloid the Global Times. On Monday, the infamously outlandish paper published an editorial declaring that “Lotte Group’s development in the Chinese market should come to an end.” It continued:
Offering land for the THAAD installation is not entirely Lotte’s fault, yet Chinese society has neither the obligation nor interest to examine and distinguish what role Lotte has played in the undertaking. Showing Lotte the door will be an effective warning to all the other foreign forces that jeopardize China’s national interests. This is the dignity China should have as a major power.
A China Daily editorial titled “Lotte’s bitter harvest” picks up where the Global Times left off, stating:
If the ROK’s deployment of THAAD is stabbing China in the back, then Lotte’s decision is tantamount to the company being the jackal to the tiger. It is thus natural that Chinese consumers will now be less willing to patronize the company; Lotte’s duty-free stores, which depend heavily on Chinese tourists to the ROK, will surely pay a price.
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang didn’t help to calm fears of a looming boycott, stating that: “The success of foreign companies who do business in our country ultimately depends on China’s market and consumers.”
Lotte admitted that it was concerned about the havoc that rising tensions could wreak on its business. Already, the company suffers from undeclared economic sanctions from China. Last year, it was forced to shutter three retail stores near Beijing and suspend construction on a $2.6 billion theme park project it was building in Shenyang after facing a series of regulatory probes.
And you thought K-pop stars had it rough.
[Images via NetEase]
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