China Targets South Korea' Lotte in THAAD backlash
South Korea fears that its decision to host a US missile shield could be behind a series of Chinese probes into Lotte, Seoul's fifth biggest conglomerate.
In the past week, Chinese authorities launched coordinated regulatory investigations into the company's operations in Shangai, Beijing, Shenyang, and Chengdu.
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Lotte agreed to give up one of its golf courses to make way for the advanced anti-missile weapons system.
South Korea said that the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Platform (THAAD) is meant to protect the country from North Korea, which has been carrying out nuclear tests. The move has, however, rattled Beijing, which insisted that THAAD impedes its nuclear detterent. China also fears that the United States plans to use the shield's powerful radar to see deep into its territory.
Lotte confirmed that its affiliates in China had received investigations but said that not all of its businesses were being probed.
"We don't know the reason or the purpose of this investigation, for its not appropriate for us to comment on it," the company said in a statement.
Analysts, on the other hand, claimed that the probe is a reaction to the missile shield deployment.
"When you consider the timing and targeting, there are plenty of reasons to think that this is an all-out investigation of Lotte affiliates in an act of political vengeance," Professor Kim-Han Kwon of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy said.
The company owns 150 stores and facilities in China. Its business interests range from confectionery to chemicals and supermarkets.
This is not the first time that Beijing is seen to be taking out its anger on South Korea. Shortly after the THAAD deal was revealed, South Korean pop stars suddenly found themselves unwelcome in China.
There are fears that sanctions could prove damaging to Seoul's economy. South Korea's foreign ministry said its keeping a close eye on the situation, while local media revealed that the government is considering of voicing its concerns over the situation.
China is yet to make an official comment, although an editorial in the in the Global Times said the probes were legitimate.