As the United States and South Korea work on improving defenses against any potential attacks from North Korea, the self-proclaimed ‘Nuclear state’ is joining forces with China to try and intimidate the U.S. and South Korea into terminating their project.
The United States and S. Korea have been working on a defense system called THAAD, which stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, since 2008. The system is designed to intercept and shoot down short, medium, and intermediate range missiles. THAAD was created in 1991 as a response to counter Iraq’s scud missile attacks during the Gulf War.
Many South Korean officials feel the THAAD systems will become targets for North Korean missiles, which will put citizens who live near the military bases in danger. While this is a fear among South Koreans, they understand that compared to not having any defense system at all, THAAD is the best viable option.
China has joined North Korea in opposing the development of the THAAD system. The Chinese military worries that these could be used to spot Chinese missile launches and feed the data to cue up other US defensive systems, such as interceptor missiles based in the US, which could potentially affect China’s deterrent capability. Basically, China doesn’t want S. Korea to work with the U.S. to protect itself because then they will also be protecting the U.S. from China.
The US already has powerful radars based in Japan and a THAAD system in Guam. It’s not easy to quantify the additional benefit that THAAD radars in South Korea would give the Pentagon, but they will certainly give South Korea an important and expanded new layer of defense against missile attacks.
China has also begun to protest the defense system by hitting South Korea where it hurts – their economy.
Lotte, a S. Korean company, is among the largest companies in the small country. The food and retail giant makes 30 percent of its profits from China, who has now started to shut down many of its stores in retaliation to implementing THAAD.
At the end of last month, Lotte agreed to lend some of its land in S. Korea to the United States government in order for the military to place THAAD in a key area. Beijing officials have lobbied against the development, declaring THAAD will give the U.S. and S. Korea the opportunity to monitor China’s military.
In addition to retail stores, Lotte also owns properties like movie theaters, hotels, and other venues within China’s borders. Since announcing they are lending the U.S. a portion of their land, however, the company’s operations in China have started to become interrupted. On Monday, protesters stood outside of a Lotte store with banners and signs. One of the banners read: “South Korea’s Lotte has declared war on China. Lotte supports THAAD. Get the hell out of China.”
Lotte also owns the world’s largest duty free company, which makes 70 percent of its sales in China. Last week, Lotte Duty Free announced its website had been taken offline, most likely due to a cyber attack. The issue was fixed, and the site is now active again. A Chinese retailer, Jumei Youpin, which carried Lotte products, said it had “completely scrubbed the name of Lotte from” its website. The company added: “We’d rather die than carry [Lotte’s] goods in [the] future.”
JD.com, a Chinese e-commerce site, abruptly shut down its online Lotte shop. It claims technical difficulties are to blame. Weilong, a China-based snack company, has begun pulling its products from Lotte stores. The company claims it will “no longer cooperate” with the South Korean business.
There are reports that claim there is a lot of Chinese backlash against many South Korean companies, most of which are tied to China’s protests regarding THAAD. According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, China’s national tourism administration has directed travel agencies to stop selling group packages in South Korea.
Is Lotte a target for China? The Chinese government has not released any official report in opposition of the South Korean company, but Xinhua, a Chinese-run news agency, has said that by Lotte’s decision to lend the governments some of its land, they have opened “a Pandora’s box in Northeast Asia.” The news agency went on to say “the decision could turn into a nightmare for Lotte, which depends heavily on Chinese tourists to South Korea for revenue from duty free stores”.
Lotte’s controversy in China started around the same time North Korea released a statement to U.S. and South Korean officials to halt THAAD’s development or deal with the consequences. N. Korea has informed the United Nations that it aims to be considered a ‘Nuclear State’ due to the country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Un, South Korea’s controversial leader, has also started testing more missiles.
North Korea threatened last week to fire missiles in response to the start of the Foal Eagle US-South Korean military exercises. The country sees the military drills as preparation for the South to invade them.
Early on Monday, North Korea fired four missiles from its Tongchang-ri region, which is located near China’s border. Three of the missiles flew about 620 miles and fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The types of missiles have not been confirmed, but South Korean officials said they appeared to be an upgraded version of a Scud missile.
Many suspect that Kim Jong Un’s decision to begin testing more missiles is due in part to his half-brother’s murder at an airport in Malaysia a few weeks ago. Since the incident, North Korea has retaliated against Malaysia by not allowing any of their government officials leave Pyongyang, North Korea’s largest city, until the murder investigation is completed to his liking.
Neither the United States nor South Korea have responded to the threats from the North. South Korea is looking at making some changes in the operations of Lotte, which could mean pulling out of China altogether.