China appears to be taking its pressure on South Korea over a US antimissile system to extremes.
A clear sign is its recent ban on package tours to South Korea. The number of Chinese tourists visiting the country may plunge 60 to 70 percent, hitting duty-free shops, airlines, hotels, restaurants and others.
The main target is Lotte, which swapped its golf course in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, with the Ministry of National Defense for a military lot in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province. The ministry will locate the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery on the golf course.
According to news reports, authorities in Dandong, China, suspended Lotte Mart, citing a violation of fire regulations.
About a dozen Chinese people picketed in front of Lotte Department Store in Shenyang on Friday, chanting “Lotte should leave China now because it supported THAAD.”
Some Lotte food affiliates have failed to win approval to sell goods on Chinese online shopping malls.
China’s retaliation seems to have reached the point where it will no longer listen to Seoul’s justifications of the THAAD deployment.
The THAAD is a set of defense equipment to intercept missiles, not fire them at other targets, and will be directed at missiles from North Korea, not at China. The retaliatory actions China has taken will nonetheless make South Korea rethink their bilateral ties.
The US State Department lambasted China for putting pressure on South Korea to give up a system to defend against North Korean missiles, calling the action unreasonable and inappropriate.
Without nuclear weapons and missiles in the North, the South would not need the THAAD. It is unreasonable to pressure the South, not the North, which caused the South to deploy the defense system.
Pyongyang has threatened peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula many times -- atomic bomb tests, ballistic missile launches, torpedoing a naval ship and shelling an island, to name a few.
Beijing has reluctantly applied UN sanctions against the North, though.
China showed prudence in distancing itself from its ally after Pyongyang had assassins kill Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, with a chemical weapon.
Now, Beijing seems to have turned back to Pyongyang.
China recently invited North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil-song. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Ri that his country has taken a consistent position to strengthen its friendship with North Korea. There are speculations that Wang and Ri may have discussed the killing of Kim Jong-nam and China’s suspension of coal imports from North Korea. Beijing halted coal imports in response to the North’s latest testing of an intermediate range missile.
Beijing will likely stand by Pyongyang, no matter how much closer South Korea gets to China economically.
Politicians should keep that in mind.
The first US-China summit talks under President Donald Trump are expected to be held in the US next month. They will be an opportunity to resolve the difficult situation facing Korea over the missile system.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly will visit South Korea, Japan and China this month. He is expected to explain the justification of the THAAD deployment to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang. He is also expected to urge China to stop retaliations against South Korea.
US roles regarding China’s pressure over the system will be of great help to South Korea.
Washington needs to note a give and take which was suggested by Amitai Etzioni, a professor at the George Washington University, in his recent contribution to the Diplomat magazine. For example, the US may state to China if North Korea’s missile program is scaled back, the US will postpone the positioning of THAAD.
If Beijing won’t listen to Seoul, dialogue between the US and China will be an option to solve the THAAD conflict.