Chinese anti-THAAD protesters are picketing outside the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Qingdao in this picture taken on Wednesday (left). The photo on the right side shows a vandalized Korean brand car. [Images captured from the Weibo website]
China cranked up punitive actions on South Korea for going ahead with the plan of installing an advanced U.S. anti-missile defense system known as the THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, by commanding travel agencies to stop selling trips to South Korea and clamping down harder on Lotte Group for yielding its land to host the weapons battery.
According to industry sources in China, the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) called travel agencies in Beijing for a meeting on Thursday and gave them verbal instruction to halt group and individual trip sales to South Korea. Korean travel agency Hana Tour also attended the meeting.
Under the order, all Korean package tours or free travels sold by local travel agencies will be prohibited. Chinese individuals wishing to visit Korea now have to book tickets directly through airlines. Travel agencies were also told to exhaust already sold trips by mid-March. The ban will likely spread to travel agencies in other cities across China, sources said.
The move will likely deal a harsh blow to the broader industry in Korea, including tourism, retail, duty free, hotel, restaurant and cosmetics. It marks China’s first measure to ban trips to a specific country since 2011 when it prohibited trips to Japan due to an escalating row over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
China has also tightened regulations on Korean retail giant Lotte after the company signed a land swap deal to hand over a plot of land it owned as a golf course to South Korea’s defense ministry to be used as the site for the THAAD deployment. On Wednesday, Chinese authorities conducted dozens of inspections on Lotte’s retail facilities operating in China, of which six cases were regarding hygiene and safety, four related to fire and seven others checking general facility maintenance. The fifth-largest Korean conglomerate is the one with the highest exposure to China. It runs about 120 retail shops across China.
Quarantine authorities in Qingdao, Shandong Province, recently incinerated an amount of yogurt-flavor candies imported from Lotte in Korea, citing prohibited additives were found in the products.
The conglomerate is reportedly considering a phase- out from China. An unnamed Lotte Group official said ¡°the company will have no other option but to review a market exit if a boycott goes in full force.¡±
Seoul’s foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck relayed complaint over Beijing’s boycott and retaliations on private enterprises over a sovereign security decision, advising Chinese media outlets to refrain from ¡°comments and behavior that could hurt bilateral relationship.
By Park Man-won and Sohn Il-seon
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