South Korea’s Lotte Group has been forced to temporarily shut down 55 of its 99 stores in China as it continues to feel the pain brought on by the company’s decison to ignore warnings from Beijing and hand over land to the Seoul government for the construction of the THAAD missile defense system.
On Monday, it was reported that 23 Lotte supermarkets had been shut down across the country, ostensibly due to fire code violations. That number has been steadily rising throughout the week, and currently stands at 55 stores, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. That’s more than half of the company’s 99 current locations in China. Of course, there’s no guarantee it will stop there.
Last week, the South Korean consortium became the target of Chinese nationalists, hackers and state media after it 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.”
Patriotic aunties answered Beijing’s call, protesting in front of a Lotte Mart in Jilin last week, holding up a banner reading: “South Korea’s Lotte Group has declared war on China. Lotte supports THAAD. Get the hell out China” between dances. Chinese hackers have also done their part, crashing Lotte’s Chinese website last week.
Meanwhile, Chinese state media outlets have been calling on Chinese consumers to boycott Lotte. “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,” reads a Global Times editorial from last week.
China is Lotte’s largest overseas market. It currently has a workforce of about 20,000 people in the country. Lotte has admitted that it is 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 that it was building in Shenyang after facing a series of regulatory probes.
In a statement on Sunday, Lotte said that it was seeking the assistance of the South Korean government, but China’s Foreign Ministry failed to calm fears on Monday, stating that while China welcomed South Korean investment, the foreign firms “must operate in accordance with the law and compliance.”
Meanwhile, China continues to urge calm in the wake of continued North Korean missile launches.
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat