Following its decision to ignore warning from Beijing and hand over land to the Seoul government for the construction of the THAAD missile defense system, things have steadily gone from bad to worse to worst for Lotte.
This month, the number of Lotte supermarkets closed in China has gradually risen from 23 to 55 to 79 as of Sunday, according to the Yonhap news agency. With 99 outlets in China, this means that 80% of Lotte’s stores in the country have been shut down.
63 of these supermarkets have been shut down by the government, ostensibly due to fire code violations. The rest have been forced to close due to nationalistic protests. If things keep going as they are the South Korean conglomerate predicts it could lose $66 million this month in China where it employs 20,000 people, possibly driving Lotte out of China for good.
The South Korean company 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.”
Spurred on by state media editorials, patriotic dancing aunties have protested in front of Lotte stores, and primary school kids are being indoctrinated against their foodstuffs, shouting along with their teacher: “Lotte, leave China! Boycott Korean goods! Protest THAAD! Love China!” Last week, a video went viral on Chinese social media showing one woman vandalizing a Lotte supermarket in Shenyang in the name of “patriotism.”
On Monday, South Korea complained to the World Trade Organization about how China had retaliated against South Korean companies over the THAAD defense system; however, the complaint was only a notification to the WTO, not a move that requires legal action. It’s not clear if Seoul plans to pursue the matter further.
But China has already responded to the complaint with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying telling a daily news briefing on Monday: “We support normal business and other exchanges between China and South Korea. But everyone knows this needs a corresponding basis in public opinion.”
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