Cause and ef­fect

Lo­cals and ex­pats weigh in on S.Korean mar­ket in China as THAAD rift con­tin­ues

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Yin Lu

“Ithink as talks about THAAD go on, my shopping habits haven’t been af­fected much,” said Wu Zhong­bin, 24, a pol­icy man­ager with the China Cham­ber of In­ter­na­tional Com­merce. “When I go

types of food there are in­stead of where they are from.”

Wu lives in Wu­daokou in Haid­ian district. The place is known for its large num­ber of Korean res­tau­rants and South Kore­ans, mostly con­sist­ing of col­lege stu­dents, and Wu is ex­posed to a large va­ri­ety of Korean prod­ucts.

There has been anti-South Korean sen­ti­ment grow­ing among the Chi­nese pub­lic against the de­ploy­ment of US Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD) mis­sile de­fense sys­tem in South Korea.

Some Chi­nese have taken ac­tion to boy­cott Lotte Group for its land-swap deal with the mil­i­tary for THAAD. Me­dia re­ports say that other South Korean brands in­clud­ing au­to­mo­bile maker Hyundai Mo­tor might have faced de­clin­ing sales dur­ing the past few months.

Metropoli­tan has in­vited sev­eral South Korean ex­pats in China and Chi­nese con­sumers to see how the sit­u­a­tion im­pacts their lives and whether Chi­nese con­sumers turn away from Korean prod­ucts.

In­stant noo­dles, ju­cies and cos­met­ics

Wu likes his in­stant noo­dles, and buys dif­fer­ent brands and com­pares them. “Do­mes­tic prod­ucts usu­ally come in bags or bar­rels and hot wa­ter is enough to pre­pare them, while South Korean noo­dle prod­ucts usu­ally re­quire boil­ing,” he said. “You can also add vegeta­bles to it so it feels more home­made.”

It is the thought­ful or unique fea­tures that causes Wu to choose some Korean brands. Down­stairs where Wu lives are some small shops that sell Korean prod­ucts, such as Korean rice wines. “The taste is just Okay, but you’ll still want to buy it just to try them. Other fun prod­ucts in­clude yo­gurt-fla­vored can­dies and thin cig­a­rettes.”

Wu sticks to his per­sonal pref­er­ences. And de­spite the fact that many are claim­ing to be boy­cotting South Korean prod­ucts, Wu does not feel pres­sure when he buys these prod­ucts.

“Boy­cotting won’t make as big of a dif­fer­ence con­sumers think it will.”

With the anti-South Korean sen­ti­ment, some prod­ucts still seem to main­tain busi­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to a report by South Kore­abased Aju Busi­ness Daily, ex­port of the coun­try’s in­stant noo­dles, known as ramyeon in Korean, has been in­creas­ing and in 2016, China was the big­gest im­porter of Korean in­stant noo­dles. The report also said that in 2016 the ship­ment of in­stant noo­dles to China rose 115.4 per­cent to $26.98 mil­lion, and in the first half of 2017, ex­ports to China jumped 202.4 per­cent com­pared to the same time the year be­fore, ac­cord­ing to stat­ics from the Bei­jing of­fice of trade and in­vest­ment pro­mo­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion KOTRA.

Not only did ex­ports of in­stant noo­dles to China grow, data also shows that mixed juice brands and ba­sic cos­met­ics also did well in the Chi­nese mar­ket. South Korean mixed juice brands ac­count for a mar­ket share of 53 per­cent and ba­sic cos­met­ics 28.7 per­cent in the Chi­nese im­port mar­ket.

Many South Korean brands have done well in an­a­lyz­ing lo­cal con­sumers’ pref­er­ences, Wu said, and make prod­ucts ac­cord­ingly, which makes con­sumers loyal to the prod­ucts. “It’s not easy to change con­sumers’ habits,” he said.

How­ever, be­tween China, South Korea and Ja­pan, a lot of their prod­ucts can sub­sti­tute each other, and that’s more chal­leng­ing for com­pa­nies than fac­ing boy­cotts, ac­cord­ing to Wu.

“For in­stance, my fe­male friends who buy Korean cos­met­ics are try­ing other brands at this time.”

Buy, or not to buy

Zhao Teng, who works in the sports in­dus­try, is among those who think there should be a boy­cott. “They hurt our feel­ings, so they shouldn’t earn money from us.”

Zhao said that the choices of Chi­nese con­sumers can help make a point. “I don’t usu­ally use South Korean brands, and I won’t con­sider choos­ing them in the fu­ture ei­ther.”

He told Metropoli­tan that he is also glad to see that his younger sis­ter, who has been a fan of sev­eral South Korean pop stars, in­clud­ing singer G-Dragon who has been very pop­u­lar in China, has shown less in­ter­est. “She said they seem less at­trac­tive be­cause there are many good-look­ing Chi­nese singers and ac­tors with good work com­ing out these days.”

Some con­sumers choose to express their anger openly to­wards South Korean prod­ucts. In a vi­ral video, a video blog­ger crushed and melted his girl­friend’s South Korean makeup to express his anger in March, the Global Times re­ported.

Lillian Li, a 29-year-old hu­man re­sources pro­fes­sional liv­ing in Bei­jing, has been us­ing cer­tain masks, creams and makeup prod­ucts from South Korea for over a year now, and she doesn’t plan to stop as a demon­stra­tion of pa­tri­otic feel­ings.

“I like them be­cause there are a lot of choices, and they are not ex­pen­sive,” she said. But Li said that she is try­ing to find replacements for the South Korean prod­ucts. “I have con­cerns that it might be more dif­fi­cult to pur­chase these masks in fu­ture. But mostly it’s be­cause I am still ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent brands, and these [South Korean prod­ucts] are not the best.”

Ko Weon-young from South Korea, who has been liv­ing in Bei­jing for five years, finds that her Chi­nese friends have not given up us­ing South Korean prod­ucts they are fond of. Most of Ko’s Chi­nese friends are women and many of them like South Korean cos­met­ics brands such as Amore Pa­cific and Lead­ers.

“Per­son­ally, I think THAAD has hurt Chi­nese peo­ple’s feel­ings, but it has lim­ited im­pact on their habits and pref­er­ences as cus­tomers,” she said. “If us­ing those prod­ucts has al­ready be­come a part of their habits and they find the prod­ucts have good qual­ity, no mat­ter where the prod­ucts are made, they will con­tinue to use them.”

Ko ad­mits that the boy­cotting makes her feel sad. “And some South Korean com­pa­nies are suf­fer­ing, so see­ing that

makes me feel bad too.”

Shop­pingShopp and tourism

Park Ji-Yu (pseu­do­nym) is a pur­chas­ing agent cur­rently re­sid­ing in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong Province. Park told Metropoli­tan that THAAD de­ploy­ment has af­fected South Korean busi­ness in China. Park has been liv­ing in China for more than four years, and she goes back and forth be­tween the two coun­tries of­ten. She said that one can see the im­pact on busi­ness in South Korea, es­pe­cially this May, with less Chi­nese tourists and cus­tomers. Ac­cord­ing to the Korea Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion, the num­ber of Chi­nese tourists vis­it­ing South Korea dropped 46.5 per­cent on-year to 2.53 mil­lion in the first seven months of 2017. But in China, the pur­chas­ing agents’ busi­nesses are re­cov­er­ing. Ac­cord­ing to what Ko has learned from her friends, sales dropped when news about THAAD im­ple­men­ta­tion orig­i­nally came out a cou­ple of months ago but now have re­cov­ered. How­ever, her friends who work at duty-free shops back in South Korea said that sales have dropped greatly, as fewer Chi­nese tourists have cho­sen to visit South Korea this year. Ko thinks that there are mul­ti­ple fac­tors at play, such as the de­cline of South Korean cul­tural in­flu­ences. “K-pop mu­sic, movies, TV dra­mas and other cul­tural prod­ucts have al­ready re­peated the same pat­terns, mak­ing Chi­nese con­sumers bored,” Ko said. “To at­tract more Chi­nese tourists and Chi­nese cus­tomers, South Korea will have to think of bet­ter ways.”

As an English-speak­ing agent who mostly caters to ex­pat cus­tomers, Park’s busi­ness was not af­fected. She noted the busi­nesses of South Korean res­tau­rants have been in­creas­ing and food prod­ucts, es­pe­cially trust­wor­thy baby food brands, are get­ting pop­u­lar too.

How­ever, Park is not very con­fi­dent that Korean prod­ucts will con­tinue to sell well in China. “It de­pends on the prod­ucts. [There are] a lot of Chi­nese prod­ucts to re­place them. They de­velop so fast.”

Pres­sure on South Korean ex­pats

Ko works in the In­ter­net in­dus­try at Wangjing in Chaoyang district, known as the Korean town of the city. She told Metropoli­tan that be­cause of the ten­sions, she tries her best not to speak Korean in pub­lic and when she has to, she speaks in a lower voice. She con­tin­ues to feel psy­cho­log­i­cal pres­sure dur­ing this time, but it’s get­ting bet­ter.

“I think the anti-South Korea sen­ti­ment does ex­ist. But it’s get­ting bet­ter,” she said.

When THAAD was first en­acted, she some­times felt she was be­ing stared at when speak­ing Korean in pub­lic or taxi driv­ers might start ask­ing whether she is South Korean, which would pos­si­bly be fol­lowed by com­ments on THAAD de­ploy­ment. But now she feels the ten­sions have eased.

“It’s not in­tim­i­dat­ing,” she said. She added that some of her Chi­nese friends also try to un­der­stand and com­fort her and other South Korean ex­pats in China.

Ko doesn’t sup­port THAAD im­ple­men­ta­tion her­self. “It costs a lot, and I be­lieve that it ben­e­fits the US in the end,” she said. There have been de­mon­stra­tors against THAAD de­ploy­ment on the street in South Korea, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports.

Ko said that she does no­tice a de­cline in the num­ber of South Kore­ans in Bei­jing, but she also pointed out that rea­sons be­hind it are com­pli­cated. “Some com­pa­nies have left and moved to sec­ond-tier cities for cost and other rea­sons,” she said.

Some South Kore­ans in Shang­hai have al­ready moved or are con­sid­er­ing mov­ing to Viet­nam. Ad­ver­tise­ments of re­search trips for re­lo­ca­tion and apart­ment rentals in Ho Chi Minh City have been posted in lo­cal com­mu­nity news­pa­pers, re­ported huan­ Ko her­self also took a tourism trip to Viet­nam last month and is con­sid­er­ing it as an op­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Park, some South Korean fam­i­lies are con­sid­er­ing leav­ing Shen­zhen, too, but the ma­jor rea­son would be liv­ing costs.

“The rea­son they are leav­ing Bei­jing is not nec­es­sar­ily THAAD re­lated,” Ko said. “Part of the rea­son is that, just like China, Viet­nam also has a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties. And many South Korean en­ter­prises have de­vel­oped new lo­ca­tions in Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia or Indonesia, which makes the de­mand of tal­ent in­crease there as well.”

De­ploy­ment of THAAD in South Korea against China’s in­ter­ests be­comes a factor that af­fects Chi­nese cus­tomers’ choices.

In­stant noo­dles still sell well de­spite anti-South Korea sen­ti­ment among Chi­nese con­sumers.

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