- A land swap deal with retailer Lotte has moved South Korea closer to deploying the US missile defense system
- China’s state media have reacted by proposing boycotts and even severing of diplomatic relations
- Inside South Korea, there have been protests, while local residents from the area of the future missile defense base have launched a lawsuit against the Defense Ministry
China’s state media have reacted strongly to a development in South Korea facilitating the upcoming deployment of an advanced US missile defense system which is designed to shield the American ally from North Korean attack but is nonetheless viewed by Beijing as a security threat.
The United States first announced plans to deploy a THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) unit in South Korea back in 2014. In 2016, the plan was formally adopted by the South Korean government.
It was reaffirmed in Seoul in early February 2017 by US Defense Secretary James Mattis, who sought to refute allegations by China and Russia that the US THAAD on the Korean Peninsula threatened their own security.
The reactions in the Chinese media came after on Monday an affiliate of South Korea’s Lotte Group approved a land swap with the government allowing the authorities to deploy the THAAD system on a golf course in the Seongju region, southeast of Seoul, Reuters reported.
Under the agreement, retailer Lotte, which is South Korea’s fifth largest company, exchanged 1,480,000 square meters of land in Seongju worth USD 7.9 million for 67,000 square metres on the outskirts of the capital Seoul.
China is concerned that the THAAD radar will be able to penetrate its territory while the deployment of the system would not help at all to reduce the existing tensions with North Korea.
“We also propose that Chinese society should coordinate voluntarily in expanding restrictions on South Korean cultural goods and entertainment exports to China, and block them when necessary,” the English-language edition of The Global Times, a Chinese state-run outlet, proposed as a retaliatory measure against the missile defense development in South Korea.
It also suggested that the South Korean group Lotte should be thrown out of China. Such a measure was dismissed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang who, however, pointed out that Beijing already protested twice with Seoul over the latter’s THAAD deployment plans.
The People’s Daily, the official English-language publication of the Chinese Communist Party, went further by stating that China could sever its diplomatic relations with South Korea over the US missile defense system.
“If THAAD is really deployed in South Korea, then China-South Korea relations will face the possibility of getting ready to cut off diplomatic relations,” it said on the WeChat account of its overseas edition.
China’s official news agency Xinhua urged Chinese consumers to boycott the products of South Korea’s Lotte Group in response to its land swap with the government in Seoul.
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed on Tuesday its land swap deal with Lotte, and prepared to fence off and begin patrols of the former golf course.
The Chinese government has not instituted or threatened any economic measures against South Korea over the US missile defense system. However, earlier this month, the Central Bank in Seoul said the number of Chinese tourists to the Korean island of Jeju had fallen by 6.7% over the Lunar New Year holiday compared with last year’s figures, partly because of China’s “anti-South Korea measures due to the THAAD deployment decision”.
Backlash in Korea
China has not been the only one disgruntled by the upcoming deployment of the THAAD system. Small rallies in South Korean cities have also protested the move.
As the land swap deal between the Korean government and Lotte was agreed upon, local residents in Seongju county and neighbouring Gimcheon filed a lawsuit with the Seoul administrative court against South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
They argue that the Ministry failed to observe legal procedures, did not receive the approval of the local community, and did not carry out an environmental impact assessment.
The Korean military plans to use helicopters to bring in barbed wire in order to fence off the site of the former golf course after weeks of daily protests, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
It also cited an anonymous Defense Ministry official as forecasting that the THAAD system would be deployed by May or June at the latest.