China fires broadsides at South Korea’s Lotte group for providing land to host anti-missile system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 10:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 12:35am

A South Korean conglomerate has landed itself in hot water in China after it agreed to provide land to host a US-backed missile shield system that Beijing has labelled a strategic threat to its national security.

Lotte Group, the fifth-largest conglomerate in South Korea and one of the country’s major foreign retail operators in China, said on Wednesday its Chinese website has suffered a disruption that could be a cyberattack by unidentified Chinese hackers, South Korea’s news agency Yonhap reported.

South Korea's Lotte Group offers golf course for THAAD missile deployment

Attempts to visit Lotte’s Chinese website have failed since Tuesday afternoon, meeting only a message saying that the server could not find the webpage.

A Lotte official told Yonhap that the disruption was caused by a virus planted by hackers, citing analysis by computer security experts.

The Asian retail giant said last month that it had closed three retail stores in China. It also faced a series of regulatory investigations into its operations in China late last year. On Monday, after it announced its decision, Lotte said that it was concerned about further business fallout caused by the tensions between the two nations.

South Korea, US forces begin joint military drills amid THAAD missile tensions with Beijing

The website breakdown occurred amid surging tension between China and South Korea in recent days after Lotte’s board agreed to sell its golf course in the southeast rural county of Seongju to South Korea’s military to host the US-backed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, which South Korea said was necessary to protect itself from a heightened missile threat from North Korea. Beijing said THAAD’s powerful radar could allow US to penetrate China’s military secrets. Beijing has vowed to take necessary “countermeasures”.

When asked about South Korean dramas being banned from Chinese video websites, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday that cooperation between China and South Korea was based on “the will of the people and appropriate popular support”, and urged Seoul to “face China’s reasonable concerns and listen to the public voices” to avoid further negative impact.

Beijing and Russia also agreed to work more closely to respond to the system’s deployment during a meeting of both countries’ deputy foreign ministers on Tuesday in Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry said on its website.

Seoul wants THAAD, but do Koreans?

Chinese state media also began to rebuke Lotte’s decision with threats of boycotts of its business in China. In an editorial on Wednesday, Global Times, a nationalist tabloid published by People’s Daily, said that as Lotte was unlikely to change its mind, “the determination of Chinese society to make it pay the price for its decision to support to host the THAAD would be firm too.”

“Companies that directly serve the deployment and jeopardise China’s interest should stay far away from China.”