by Oiwan Lam
The conflict between China and South Korea over the United States Army’s anti-ballistic missile system has escalated in the past week with widespread boycotts of Korean retailer Lotte.
Lotte announced in November that it had agreed to give up a golf course it owns in South Korea for the storage of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery. The anti-ballistic missile system is purportedly meant to deter attacks from North Korea, but Chinese officials fear it could one day be turned on them.
State news agency Xinhua News was the first Chinese media outlet to start calling out Lotte for assisting in the deployment of THAAD, and has continued to publish criticism since mid-February. Its commentary on February 27, for example, read:
Echoing Xinhua, China nationalist tabloid Global Times called for a boycott in its Chinese editorial commentary, titled “Slam Lotte and Punish South Korea, China Has No Other Option.” The English version of Global Times reported on netizens’ reaction and highlighted angry comments directed at Lotte, including the following:
“China did not welcome you, please get the hell out of here and go back home.”
“It’s a very simple logic…Lotte is making lucrative profit from Chinese consumers yet they are standing against us and supporting the South Korean government. In other words, the group is actually using our money to put us in danger. How can Chinese tolerate that?”
It didn’t take long for words to become action. Following the call for boycott, Chinese authorities took steps to punish Lotte. Thus far, Chinese officials have shut down 39 out of Lotte Mart’s 99 stores in the country over fire safety concerns, a Lotte spokesman said. In addition, several online shopping platforms, including JD.com and Jumei Youpin, have removed Lotte brand products.
The boycott is not confined to the web. Small-scale protests have sprouted across China. Reportedly, a number of Korean brand vehicles were crushed in Shandong province. And below is screenshot from a video showing a boycott demonstration outside a Lotte retail store in Jilin.
‘Follow the call’
While Chinese social media outlets are flooded with nationalistic comments, beyond the Great Firewall Wu Zuolai, a famous blogger, argued on Twitter that the boycott is meant to cover up China’s diplomatic failure to keep North Korea — which launched four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan just on Monday, March 6 — under control:
— 吴祚来 (@wuzuolai) March 1, 2017
“With the government’s failure in diplomacy, it incites people to protest. The intention is similar to the Boxer Rebellion during the Qing Dynasty. Now there is a centralized authority which hand outs internal notices to all government and party branches, asking members of the youth league to participate in anti-Korea and anti-Lotte protests. Lotte is a Korean corporation and it has to serve the country’s interest. You can’t change its nature. The protest will only do harm to Lotte’s Chinese partner.”
Twitter user @redfireage also mocked the Xinhua commentary:
— Red Fire Age (@redfireage) March 1, 2017
“Assisting the tiger. China cannot welcome Lotte. Which is more destructive, South Korea’s THAAD or North Korea’s nuclear bomb? North Korea has VX nerve agent and nuclear bombs, aren’t these more threatening? Kim III keeps slamming China to its face, but the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t even dare to fart back but keep cursing South Korea, inciting hatred, boycotting Korean corporations, such a government is so low.”
A Radio France Internationale writer collected some of the critical comments found on Chinese social media:
In reaction to Chinese boycotts, the South Korean government-subsidized media outlet Korea Times published an editorial titled “Grow up, China,” calling China a spoiled kid and urging:
“…we Koreans should tough it out and respond to Chinese provocations with a cool head – finding ways to reduce Lotte’s losses, reducing our reliance on China for exports and bringing unity to our political voice, until China sees reason.”