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[Editorial] Confront bully

Government officials, politicians should speak up against China’s spiteful acts

It seems there is no end to China’s mean-spirited bullying of South Korea. Its retaliatory actions against the plan to deploy a US advanced anti-missile system on the Korean Peninsula are spreading to all fronts.

The vindictive actions are so massive and relentless -- they now appear to target everything Korean -- that South Korea should no longer maintain a wait-and-see attitude.

A prime target of the well-orchestrated spiteful actions is Lotte Group, which had agreed with the Korean government to provide a golf course for the location of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery.

Since the decision, Chinese authorities have been intimidating Lotte’s local business units. Officials from agencies overseeing tax, firefighting, safety and hygiene raided Lotte offices, factories and stores in major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Shenyang.

Most recently, Chinese authorities -- for unclear reasons -- halted Lotte’s work on constructing a theme park in Shenyang. It would be no coincidence that Lotte closed down three supermarkets in the vicinity of Beijing and withdrew from China’s leading online shopping mall last month.

Lotte, Korea’s fifth-largest conglomerate, is not the only Korean business that is taking the brunt of the Chinese malevolence. Since the announcement in July of the decision to bring a THAAD battery to South Korea, the Beijing government has put one prohibitive restriction on Korea after another.

It started with ban on Hallyu programs and entertainers, which has now extended to classical arts events like concerts by world-renowned soprano Sumi Jo and pianist Paik Kun-woo. Travel is another area hit hard, with China cutting off charter flights between the two countries and restricting group tours to Korea.

Chinese authorities are also exploiting import and safety inspections to discriminate against Korean goods, including cosmetics, home appliances and batteries for environmentally friendly vehicles.

Chinese officials insist they just raised standards for foreign imports and that South Korean products are not the only ones being subject to the regulations. It’s hard to buy that argument. Take this as an example: China recently banned 47 models of electronic toilet seats for safety problems, and 43 of them were from Korea.

The bombardment of indiscriminate retaliations has reached such a serious level that the Korean government cannot be resigned to only trying to persuade the Beijing government that the THAAD battery is not aimed at checking China, but at North Korean missiles.

It is no use telling China that South Korea and the US would not need the missile shield system if Beijing had done its bit to rein in its wayward neighboring ally, as it would only fall on deaf ears.

What’s evident is that North Korea will not give up its nuclear and missile ambitions anytime soon. On Sunday, the North test-fired a missile into the East Sea, the first such provocation since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.

As things stand, as Korean and US defense chiefs agreed in Seoul recently, the allies will have to push ahead with the deployment of the THAAD system here.

That will make China even more vengeful, which means the Seoul government should be ready to take on the issue.

True, South Korea is smaller than China. But that does not mean we should remain submissive and tolerant at all times. By taking some countermeasures, we may lose more. But there is more at stake than economic losses.

US Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently said that China should cease its attempts to undermine South Korea’s “sovereign” ability to defend itself.

No senior South Korean government official has yet publicly spoken about sovereignty vis-a-vis China. The numerous presidential hopefuls are only interested in taking advantage of their respective positions on the THAAD deployment -- endorsement, cancellation or delay. It is sad they care less about the sovereignty of the country they seek to lead than a foreign legislator.