A Chinese expert on Wednesday blasted South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group for blaming setbacks in its business operations in China on the country's opposition to the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea.
Though Lotte's decision to allow the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on one of its sites in South Korea might have angered many Chinese officials and consumers, it should not consider any legitimate regulatory actions taken by the Chinese authorities as retaliation, said Lü Chao, a research fellow with the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.
Lotte has signed a deal with the South Korean government to allow the use of what is now a golf course in southeastern South Korea as the site for the deployment of the THAAD system, a move that China opposes.
"China will not target Lotte, or any specific company, for political issues as this would run counter to China's economic agenda to further open up its market and attract more foreign businesses," Lü told the Global Times on Wednesday, adding that China has "many other ways to express its opposition."
Lü was commenting on a Reuters report Wednesday, which suggested that Chinese authorities halted construction of a Lotte real estate project in Shenyang, Northeast China's Liaoning Province amid tensions between China and South Korea on the latter's plan to deploy THAAD. Reuters cited a source who was not authorized to discuss the matter with media and declined to be identified.
Asked about Lotte on Wednesday, Lu Kang, spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he was not aware of the specific project but reiterated China's stance on opening to foreign business and opposition to the THAAD deployment.
Also on Wednesday, Lotte's online flagship store on Alibaba's shopping platform Tmall appeared to have been closed. In a notice on its store page, Lotte said the store would be closed starting January 12, with no further details as to why and how long the store would be closed.
Lotte's China headquarters in Shanghai failed to respond to a Global Times request for comment on the report as of press time on Wednesday.
But in December, it confirmed to the Global Times that some of its subsidiaries had faced investigations by Chinese authorities for tax, fire control and safety issues. Some South Korean media at the time descried the Chinese actions as a retaliation against Lotte's involvement in the THAAD issue.
But these were normal, legitimate regulatory actions taken by the Chinese government, rather than retaliatory actions against Lotte as some suggested, according to Lü.
"China will not create trouble for Lotte out of nothing to just punish it for the THAAD issue, if there weren't any problems in the company," Lü said, adding that Lotte should reflect on problems on its operations in China instead of mixing business with politics.