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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 19)

All News 07:06 January 19, 2017

Delay of THAAD deal
: Lotte's hesitation to sign cannot be justified

The Ministry of National Defense is facing a delay in its plan to deploy a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system as Lotte Group is balking at approving a land exchange deal. Lotte was supposed to hold a board meeting by mid-January to approve the deal under which the military offers land in Namyangju in exchange for a golf course in Seongju, owned by Lotte, where the THHAD battery will be located. But the fifth-largest conglomerate has yet to convene the meeting.

It's not difficult to understand why the retail giant is hesitant though. Given that China strongly objects to the golf course being used as the THAAD site out of concern that its powerful radar could spy on Chinese territory, Lotte may well fear Beijing's retaliation.

Lotte has already been the target of what are believed to be China's reprisal measures. Some 150 stores, factories and storage facilities of Lotte affiliates in China have come under tax audits and fire and sanitation inspections. Its duty-free operations in Korea are hitting a snag because Chinese tourists account for nearly 70 percent of the sales in Lotte duty-free shops. The group is also building a huge complex of retail outlets and amusement parks in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu.

Lotte says it needs more time to assess if the land deal is worth it. But there are suspicions that Lotte may be delaying its approval, expecting the birth of a liberal government skeptical about the THAAD deployment at a time when an early presidential election is almost certain.

One can understand partisan conflicts over the controversial missile defense system, but it is quite serious that a private business wavers over a national security issue. Lotte should be reminded that it may be risking the national interest in a blind pursuit of corporate interest. No matter how difficult its situation ― torn between the governments of Korea and China ― is, few will support it.

All this mess has been caused by Beijing's unreasonable pressure on Seoul to reverse its THAAD decision. But there is no question that deploying the advanced missile shield is designed to protect our people as well as U.S. forces against North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threats.

To ease its dilemma, Lotte could expect to capitalize on the current political chaos following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. But it's all but impossible to roll back the THAAD deployment now, since it has been decided on. More than anything else, we cannot leave a precedent of yielding to China's pressure. Lotte must hurry to convene its board meeting and sign the land swap contract.

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