NEARLY TWO DOZEN LOTTE STORES IN CHINA CLOSED
Move ramps up pressure on conglomerate amid Seoul-Beijing standoff
CHINESE authorities have closed nearly two dozen retail stores of South Korea’s Lotte Group following inspections, ramping up pressure on the conglomerate amid a diplomatic standoff that has cast a chill over business ties between the two nations.
Lotte said yesterday 23 of its China supermarket stores had been shut, reaching from Dandong on China’s North Korean border to the wealthy east coast and southern Changzhou, marking a wide clamp-down on the group in its biggest overseas market.
A Lotte Mart spokesman could not provide further details, but workers at three stores said the closures — which they said were temporary — were fire-safety related.
The Anhui fire department said in a post on its Sina Weibo microblog account yesterday it had temporarily shut two Lotte Mart stores due to fire risks, part of a broader regional sweep over the last month that had led to the closure of 30 stores belonging to a range of companies including Lotte.
The Lotte closures are the latest in a series of incidents affecting South Korean companies in China after cyber attacks and a ban on sales of travel tours to South Korea.
Lotte Mart had 115 stores in China as of January, contributing to group sales there of over three trillion won (RM11.57 billion) in 2015.
The incidents come after Lotte approved a land swap outside Seoul last week that will allow South Korea to install the United States’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, in response to missile threat from North Korea.
South Korea’s military earlier yesterday said North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the sea prompting acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn to call for THAAD’s swift installation.
On Chinese social media, photos and videos circulated of protests outside Lotte stores, while others showed Lotte outlets with their steel grates pulled shut.
Outside one store, a red banner with large white characters read: “South Korea’s Lotte has declared war on China. Lotte supports THAAD. Get the hell out of China.”
The Lotte Group said it was seeking assistance from the South Korean government regarding the issues it was facing in China, where it employs around 20,000 people — a third of its overseas staff.
A policeman directing traffic outside a Lotte store in Shenyang, China. South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group says it employs 20,000 people in the mainland, where it has 115 stores.