All That THAAD: South Korea Rattled By China Tourism Curb

Seohoi Stephanie Park
Seohoi Stephanie Park

Last July, South Korea announced the decision to deploy THAAD, a U.S-produced missile defense system. Since then, the Chinese government has retaliated with a number of subtle and explicit measures, including denying South Korean entertainers access to its lucrative market.

Its latest pushback appears to be discouraging Chinese citizens from traveling to South Korea. On Friday, Korea Tourism Organization’s press department told Korea Exposé that the Chinese government held a meeting recently with “key travel agencies,” instructing them to suspend all sales of trips to South Korea. KTO said this suspension will take effect starting Mar. 15. South Korea’s foreign ministry has yet to make an official statement. China opposes the THAAD deployment as an expansion of the U.S. military presence in East Asia.

What kind of reaction in South Korea so far?

At their high-level meetings, political parties from across South Korea’s political spectrum condemned the Chinese government’s decision. This is a rare show of consensus, as the parties had previously been divided in their reactions to THAAD.

Public reaction has been mixed on Twitter, with some strong denunciations of China:

“China has acted like a loser, with the government directly intervening, so maybe we should just voluntarily restrain ourselves from traveling to China.”

Some pointed fingers within South Korea, at political parties, politicians, the current administration.

“Why do you think previous administrations did not deploy THAAD? The incompetence of the Park Geun-hye administration, a global moron, is destroying our national economy and security. Who’s going to invest in our country? It’ll soon become a battlefield between the U.S. and China….”

“Before we denounce China’s retaliatory action in connection with THAAD as irrational, let’s think about who’s more irrational: them, or the South Korean government that paid 4 trillion won to deploy a useless missile defense system. China is strategically very rational.”

(The Defense Ministry didn’t confirm the exact cost of THAAD deployment, saying the number cannot be publicized.) 

“The U.S. just made a strong statement calling China’s retaliations irrational and inappropriate. Currently, the Chinese retributions against South Korean companies including Lotte are extensive and indiscriminate. The Park administration’s complacency over THAAD deployment brought this upon us. The government should be held responsible for the losses suffered by companies and the civilian sector.”

A column in Chosun Ilbo lamented South Korea’s over-dependence on the Chinese market: “If we do not decrease the dependence, China’s condescending tyrannies against South Korea will continue.” 

On Friday morning, acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn defended his pro-THAAD position, saying, “THAAD is a necessary self-defense measure for South Korea to protect itself from North Korean missile threats. Again we stress that we do not aim to target any third country.”

After his speech, public outrage targeted Hwang and the current administration:

“And our counter measure for China’s retribution is? “Better communication”! So I guess the lack of communication is what has provoked China. Mind blown.”

Opposition parties including the Minjoo Party are issuing similar criticisms of Hwang Kyo-ahn’s response, while the Liberty Korea Party (the renamed Saenuri Party) and the Bareun Party stuck to their pro-THAAD stance. Some experts say this may only be the start: the retaliation could continue as long as the THAAD issue is unresolved between China and South Korea.

Meanwhile, Jeju Island, where Chinese visitors make up over 80% of its tourism, held an emergency meeting today with tourism organizations. Kim Young-jin, the head of the Jeju Tourism Association, said that Chinese tourists have already started cancelling their visits to Jeju. During his recent visit to China, he recalled a Chinese travel agent asking him cynically, “Why are you here?”


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