Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. Photo: Missile Defense Agency
China's foreign ministry on Monday voiced strong objection after Lotte Group decided to strike a land swap deal with South Korea's Defense Ministry to facilitate the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system.
"I want to reiterate that the Chinese objection to the deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea is unshakable. China will firmly take necessary measures to protect its security interests," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press conference in Beijing, according to a statement released on the ministry's website.
The move of the US and South Korea to deploy the THAAD system badly breaks the regional strategic balance, impairs the strategic security interests of the related countries including China in the region and is detrimental to the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, Geng noted.
"All the consequence of that are the responsibility of the US and South Korea. And we strongly urge the related countries to stop the process of the deployment," Geng added.
Over the weekend, South Korean TV station KBS reported that Lotte and South Korea's Defense Ministry will finalize the controversial land swap deal on Tuesday, which allows the South Korean military to establish the THAAD system on a Lotte-possessed golf course, citing sources from the ministry.
Given that the presidential election could be held ahead of the schedule, the Defense Ministry of South Korea will accelerate the process for the deployment of the THAAD system once the land swap deal is signed, the sources said.
Under a bilateral agreement which defines the status of the US troops stationed in South Korea, the two countries will immediately hold negotiations about the use of the golf course as a THAAD base after the land swap deal is completed, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported. Negotiations will be followed by the design work for the THAAD base, environmental impact assessment and infrastructure construction, Yonhap said.
The controversy over the land swap deal has made Lotte a target of criticism in China. The official Xinhua News Agency and the nationalist-leaning Global Times ran editorials on February 19 and 21 respectively to call Lotte's decision a threat to the regional stability and China's security interests.
Since November last year when the news about the land swap deal broke out, the South Korean conglomerate has been suffering from huge business losses in China, which included the suspension of the construction of its project in the northeastern city of Shenyang, the closing of its flagship store on the country's largest online marketplace Taobao, and the withdrawal of its three supermarkets from the country.
Analysts say that the company will suffer further loss of business in China if the land swap deal is signed.
China has recently blocked the streaming services of the latest South Korean music and dramas on the country's video-sharing websites, in an apparent sign of Beijing's retaliation, according to South Korean media reports.
When South Korean President Park Geun-hye agreed to place the THAAD system in her country last year, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, immediately issued a sweeping ban on South Korean stars' entertainment activities in the country. The media regulator's move was supported by most Chinese nationals at the time.
Currently, Lotte has more than 150 branches in the retail sector in China, with its business scope involving various industries ranging from food, retail, tourism and construction to finance and services.