SEOUL – South Korea’s Lotte Group said Monday four of its retail stores in China were closed after inspections by authorities, as Seoul protests at discriminating action by China after Lotte agreed to provide land for a U.S. missile defense system.
China is the biggest overseas market for Lotte Group, South Korea’s No. 5 conglomerate, generating annual sales of a just over 3 trillion Korean won ($2.60 billion) in 2015.
A Lotte Mart spokesman said the four stores, in Dandong, Changzhou and two other locations, were closed last week after the inspections, but could not provide further details. Lotte Mart had about 115 stores in China as of January.
The retail closures came after affiliate Lotte International Co. Ltd. approved a South Korean land swap last week to allow the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which is being installed in response to North Korea’s missile threat.
South Korea’s military said earlier Monday North Korea fired “multiple ballistic missiles” from its Tongchang-ri region, where a missile base is located.
South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, said on Monday Seoul should swiftly complete the THAAD deployment after the launch of the missiles.
China has objected to the deployment of the missile system, saying it has a radar capable of penetrating Chinese territory.
Shares in Lotte Shopping, of which Lotte Mart is a business division, fell 2 percent by 0155 GMT, compared with a 0.2 percent drop in the wider market.
Lotte’s duty free operator, Lotte Duty Free, said Thursday a cyberattack using Chinese internet protocol addresses had crashed its website. It is currently back online.
China’s Tourism Ministry last Thursday instructed tour operators in Beijing to stop selling trips to South Korea from March 15, with the order spreading to other regions across the mainland, an official at Korea Tourism Organization said Monday.
The order came days after the Lotte land swap.
A Chinese company abruptly cancelled plans to send some 5,000 employees to South Korea’s Incheon City in April, the official said, adding that there are concerns about more cancellations by group tourists.
Shares of tourism, cosmetics and airline firms extended losses Monday, although the declines were not as severe as last Friday’s.
Then, China cancelled its invitation for South Korea Trade Minister Joo Hyung-hwan to its annual Boao forum, the ministry said Monday. The forum’s office cited a lack of panels for a session to which Joo was invited, the ministry said, without elaborating further.
On Sunday, Joo expressed “deep concerns over a series of actions in China” and protested against discriminating action by China toward South Korean companies.
“We will act according to international law against any actions that violate policies of the World Trade Organization or the free trade agreement between South Korea and China,” he said.
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