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South Korean Businesses, Culture Face Backlash in China


K-Pop group SISTAR members attend a press conference prior to attending the K-Pop stage, "M Countdown" at the KCON 2015 Japan in the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, April 22, 2015.

China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner and many Chinese are big fans of Korean pop culture. But Korean businesses say they are suffering because of a dispute over a missile defense system located in South Korea.

American forces have already begun deploying some parts of the anti-missile system, known as THAAD. U.S. and South Korean officials say the system is needed as a “defensive measure” to counter the threat of missile attacks from North Korea.

But China has repeatedly spoken out against THAAD, saying the U.S. could use the system’s radar technology to monitor Chinese military activity.

For months, Chinese state-run media have called for a boycott of South Korean products over the THAAD deployment. Many South Korean companies and media stars say they have lost business over the dispute.

In this photo provided by U.S. Forces Korea, trucks carrying parts of U.S. missile launchers and other equipment needed to set up A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system arrive at Osan air base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, March 6, 2017.
In this photo provided by U.S. Forces Korea, trucks carrying parts of U.S. missile launchers and other equipment needed to set up A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system arrive at Osan air base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, March 6, 2017.

Among industries suffering economic losses is South Korean entertainment exported to China. Several “K-pop” music stars were forced to cancel planned concerts in China because of visa issues. Some popular South Korean television shows have also reportedly disappeared.

Chinese and South Korean experts see the entertainment industry as intentionally targeted due to Beijing’s opposition to the THAAD system.

Adam Jourdan is a correspondent for Reuters news agency who covers China. He says the popularity of K-pop music and South Korean shows makes them an easier target.

“It’s an obvious target for a crackdown on Seoul and on South Korea’s economy because China is one of the biggest importers of South Korean cultural imports.”

Did China sanction South Korean businesses?

China has denied that economic restrictions have been placed on South Korean companies because of the anti-missile system dispute. But there are other examples of businesses suffering due to an economic backlash over THAAD.

One of them is international supermarket chain Lotte Group. The company agreed to sell land to South Korea’s military so it could deploy THAAD to the area. A few days after the agreement was signed, Lotte suffered a cyberattack that took down its shopping websites for several hours.

In addition, dozens of Lotte Mart stores were recently ordered shut for a month in China after officials conducted surprise inspections.

A shopper pushes a cart down a quiet Lotte Mart in Beijing, China, March 17, 2017.
A shopper pushes a cart down a quiet Lotte Mart in Beijing, China, March 17, 2017.

The Chinese government-run newspaper, Global Times, recently wrote an opinion article in support of economic sanctions on Lotte and other South Korean companies.

“While the Lotte Group provided the land to US military deployment at the expense of China's security interests, it should not be allowed to benefit from the Chinese market,” the newspaper wrote. It added that a Chinese "boycott” would also greatly harm South Korea's tourism industry.

According to the Associated Press, China told South Korean travel agencies to stop selling tour packages to South Korea. Instead, Chinese visitors should seek visas themselves. South Korean airlines also cut flights to and from China as demand dropped.

In this file photo, a Chinese tourist looks towards the north through a pair of binoculars at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, Oct. 16, 2013.
In this file photo, a Chinese tourist looks towards the north through a pair of binoculars at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, Oct. 16, 2013.

Adam Jourdan said such unofficial sanctions are a clear attempt by Beijing to keep up pressure on Seoul on the THAAD issue.

“By targeting this area, it’s sending a clear and very visible message to South Korea, you know - back off from the anti-missile system, or we are going to continue to spread this crackdown on your stars.”

A couple waits to buy tickets of movies at Lotte Cinema in Seoul, South Korea, March 17, 2017.
A couple waits to buy tickets of movies at Lotte Cinema in Seoul, South Korea, March 17, 2017.

South Korea said it has brought the issue to the World Trade Organization for possible action against China’s alleged retaliation against South Korean companies.

Anti-China sentiment in South Korea

Meanwhile, a new opinion survey shows growing anti-China sentiment in South Korea following the economic reaction to THAAD.

Results of the survey were released by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. The survey saw China’s favorability rating in South Korea fall to 3.21 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest rating.

“Interestingly it was lower than that of Japan, which was 3.33,” said Kim Ji-yoon, a research fellow and co-author of the study.

Residents in a rural South Korean town shout slogans in protest of a plan to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, in their neighborhood, in Seoul, South Korea on July 21, 2016.
Residents in a rural South Korean town shout slogans in protest of a plan to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, in their neighborhood, in Seoul, South Korea on July 21, 2016.

In past surveys, Japan has consistently ranked lower than China due to continued anger in South Korea over atrocities committed during Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean opposition to THAAD also dropped from 46 percent in November to 38 percent in March. Kim said the study found that even THAAD opponents now have a lower opinion of the Chinese.

“Regardless of your attitude of opinion toward THAAD deployment on the Korean Peninsula, China has lost a lot of popularity among the Korean public.”

The United States – South Korea’s closest military ally – received the highest favorability opinion, at 5.71. Not surprisingly, North Korea finished last in the survey, with a rating of 2.17.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press, Reuters and other sources. Hai Do was the editor.

We want to hear from you. What do you think about South Korean pop culture in China being affected by this political dispute? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

obviousadj. easy to understand or see

crackdown - n. an increased effort to enforce a law or rule

backlashn. strong public reaction to something

cyberattack – n. an attack on computers or computer systems

sanction – n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws

boycott - n. organized effort in which people refuse to buy, use or do something they do not agree with

sentimentn. attitude or opinion

atrocity n. very cruel, violent or terrible action

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