China’s retaliation against the South Korean government is continuing to intensify in the wake of the latter’s decision to accept the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
The retaliation took the form of anti-Hallyu measures in July last year. More recently, the Communist Party of China began to mention a severance of diplomatic relations and boycott campaigns after Lotte decided to provide land for THAAD installation. A major e-commerce company in China has shut down its sales network for Lotte and official Chinese news agencies are instigating a boycott against Lotte.
On the part of South Korea, China’s blatant bashing as of late can be an opportunity to find out the true nature of China. In addition, this opportunity can lead to some positive effects depending on its response.
First of all, China’s threat broke some South Koreans’ naive illusion that China is a good and generous neighbor. THAAD deployment in South Korea is solely to protect the country from the North Korean nuclear threat but China’s intimidation is trampling on the pride of South Koreans beyond intervention in domestic affairs.
The intimidation has no positive effect on China’s own national interests as well. At present, millions of Chinese are working for more than 23,000 South Korean companies in China and South Koreans are one of the largest groups of inbound tourists in China, but these numbers can drop due to the retaliatory measures. Besides, the measures are contradictory to Chinese President and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping’s remarks in favor of openness and anti-trade protectionism and this contradiction is likely to negatively affect the international image of China as well as its international credit rating.
If history is any guide, the effects of China’s economic retaliatory measures are limited at best, too. During the Senkaku Islands dispute in the past, China took a variety of measures to get even with Japan, ranging from boycotting of products to travel ban and export and import restrictions. However, those fizzled out in the end and now the most popular tourist attractions in Japan are crowded with tourists from China. Its economic retaliation has resulted in its own losses in many cases as well. For instance, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan has decreased by more than 30% in the first year of the Tsai Ing-wen administration but Taiwan still attracted the largest number of tourists in its history last year by focusing on the 10 countries in the ASEAN region and six in South Asia.
Under the circumstances, the South Korean government would be well advised to take this opportunity to review its market and industry strategy with regard to China and reduce its reliance on China in the fields of trade and tourism by means of industrial advancement and market diversification.
One of the most important points is to continue to adhere to principles in spite of the damage and losses to be entailed by China’s measures. The South Korean government should keep trying to dissuade China but such efforts should not sacrifice national security in any case. United people’s will and courage can turn the intimidation into economic advantages. A mistake, however, will lead to a wrong and anachronistic diplomatic viewpoint of China haunting South Korea for long.