China punishes S. Korean companies, soaps, tourism as THAAD deployments begin

by WorldTribune Staff, March 7, 2017

China has launched into major economic retaliation against South Korea for its deployment of a U.S. missile defense system.

Beijing, in response to Seoul deploying the THAAD system, has shut down South Korean retail stores in China, has told travel agencies not to sell tourists tickets to the South and is even banning wildly popular South Korean soap operas.

The ‘first elements’ of the THAAD system have arrived in South Korea, U.S. defense officials said. /NBC News

An official from South Korea’s Defense Ministry, who cited office rules in declining to be named, said that the THAAD equipment has arrived in South Korea and includes launchers, but didn’t confirm how many.

While South Korea’s media speculate that the THAAD deployment could be completed by as early as April, the ministry official couldn’t confirm those reports. The official said that the plan was to have the system operational as soon as possible.

A few days after Korean conglomerate Lotte Group finalized a land-swap deal to provide one of its golf courses to host the missile defense system, Lotte’s Chinese website was hacked. Lotte said on March 6 that more than 10 of its Chinese retail stores have been closed after inspections by authorities, allegedly due to fire-safety concerns, Reuters reported.

Reuters could not immediately reach local fire safety authorities for comment.

Authorities have also instructed Chinese travel agencies to stop selling trips to South Korea. Nearly half of tourists to Korea are from China.

A record number of Chinese tourists entered South Korea in 2016, even in the months following the original THAAD announcement last July — according to the Financial Times, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Korea increased by 27 percent year-on-year in the four months after the announcement.

Chinese authorities have also forbidden Korean stars from appearing on Chinese TV programs and soap operas; one Korean reality show participant, singer Hwang Chi Yeul, was abruptly replaced by an actor from Hong Kong. They have also banned imports from 19 Korean cosmetics brands.

Since Feb. 24, at least five Korean TV shows — including the extraordinarily popular variety show Running Man — have been inaccessible on Chinese video websites.

South Korean pop culture, exemplified by K-pop music and TV soap operas, is one of the country’s most important exports.

Troy Stangarone, a senior director at the Korea Economic Institute of America, said China risks overplaying its hand by blocking popular South Korean content and could, over time, push its neighbor toward investing in other regional economies, such as Vietnam.

“Banning or prohibiting the update of additional Korean dramas is a risky course by the Chinese due to the popularity of the products,” Stangarone said. “In the short term, it might have a negative impact on South Korea. There could also be a negative impact on China.”

“It hurts China’s image as a business-friendly country,” he added.

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