China’s National Tourism Administration has recently been instructing travel agencies to stop selling South Korean tour packages, industry officials said. The move is the latest in a series of retaliatory steps by Beijing for the plan to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in South Korea. China believes the system could be used against it.
Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said it is working to verify the reports but urged Beijing to come to a “reasonable” decision. Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters the government would look into whether China’s actions constituted a violation of international law, such as the World Trade Organization rules.
“If the reports are true, it would make an unreasonable action that artificially constrains normal, people-to-people exchanges, which have nothing to do with the issue in question, and we extremely regret it,” the ministry said in a statement.
“In any case, (China) ought not to create an artificial obstacle for exchanges between the two peoples that form the foundation of the two countries’ relations.”
Yun said, “We will examine whether there is any breach in international norms and explore necessary steps. … It’s too early to go into details at this point, and we will need to monitor how China would formalize (the retaliatory measures).”
In its first formal reaction, the State Department also expressed concerns over Beijing’s actions.
“As THAAD is a prudent and limited self-defense measure designed to respond to a clear, reckless and unlawful North Korean military threat, criticism or pressure on the ROK to abandon its self-defense would be unreasonable and inappropriate,” a department spokesperson said in a statement provided to Yonhap News Agency.
Earlier in the day, the issue came to the fore during a government-party policy consultation, presided over by acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and participated by top Cabinet economic policymakers.
The sides agreed to actively appeal to China about its “unfair” interference in the private sector trade and sociocultural affairs through upcoming high- and working-level meetings, ruling Liberty Korea Party spokesperson Rep. Kim Myung-yeon told reporters.
While reaffirming the deployment plan, the prime minister pledged to craft countermeasures to minimize the losses of South Korean businesses, considering the two countries’ multifaceted economic ties.
The deployment process is set to kick into high gear now that Seoul’s Defense Ministry has secured land for the battery in Seongju, South Gyeongsang Province, through a pact struck Tuesday with Lotte Group.
“As the THAAD deployment is expected to pick up (and) China’s resistance to grow fiercer, we strengthen communications with China and draw up necessary steps in time, while continuing monitoring of the measures from the Chinese side,” Hwang said at the meeting.
“The deployment is a self-defensive measure vital for us to defend national security and people’s lives from North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, and I’d like to emphasize once again that it is not aimed at any third country.”
The latest tour ban sparked heated responses from both conservative and liberal camps, as well as attacks on rival presidential candidates over their stances on THAAD.
Liberty Korea Party Floor Leader Rep. Chung Woo-taik lambasted what he called “petty and arrogant behavior and a great power’s tyranny,” saying China’s meddling is “going way too far.”
“The root cause behind the THAAD deployment is North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, and China bears the first and foremost responsibility as it has been conniving and sitting on its hands,” he said at an internal party meeting.
“It’s clear that China won’t be able to win international respect as long as it continues to press and intimidate neighbor countries like an emperor.”
Main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Chair Rep. Choo Mi-ae also criticized China’s “excessive” behavior, but upheld the party’s position that the deployment is a “rough” decision that should be reviewed by the next administration.
“I’d like to make it clear that such non-diplomatic retaliatory measures as anti-South Korea bans will not resolve the matter,” she said at a separate party session.
Rep. Choung Byoung-gug, leader of the splinter Bareun Party, also labeled the ongoing retaliation as a “shameful” act that does not suit the country’s standing while slamming the Democratic Party and its presidential front-runner Moon Jae-in for their position on THAAD.
“How could the Democratic Party call a company’s hard-won decision to provide land for THAAD a bribe and transfer the plan to the next government, what country is it from?” Choung said during another party gathering.
“THAAD is the best thing to save ourselves from North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and one that leads us to the path of self-defense. We should sternly respond to China with our own principles.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)