China is absolutely furious with the deployment of U.S. Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 1 (CSG1), led by Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson in the South China Sea. Even if U.S. agrees to a one-on-one fight, Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its squadron have little chance of defeating the U.S. strike group, which includes an entire destroyer squadron and an additional Arleigh Burke class destroyer.
It is just the kind of display of Washington’s power and global reach that the U.S. Navy excels at – and Beijing hates being intimidated and humiliated in such a way. For now, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy can only watch without the ability to do anything. Time and patience are two ingredients for a successful military pushback against the U.S. naval force.
Military experts agreed that within a little more than a decade, China’s Navy would have more warships than Washington under its command. Over the next 10 to15 years, China could build its fleet to a total of 500, including up to 4 aircraft carriers and 100 submarines. That’s more than 350 vessels President Donald Trump plans to expand the U.S. Navy.
While waiting impatiently for that day to arrive, China isn’t going to sit down whining, cursing and bitching about big bully America. Beijing knew Washington can still depend on its allies in the Asia-Pacific region – Japan and South Korea. If China cannot hurt the powerful U.S., it can surely hurt the Yankee’s buddies. And Beijing has decided to strike while the iron is hot.
China is particularly angered on the plan to deploy THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) in South Korea, latest by the end of this year. The Korean Defence Ministry and the U.S. Defence Department claim the anti-missile system – THAAD – will be used only as protection against North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.
However, everyone knows that the THAAD deployment is to track and contain missiles launched from China, NOT North Korea. If allowed, South Korea will join Japan (which already has 2 THAAD radars) as U.S. allies targeting China. As far as Beijing is concerned, the deployment of THAAD is overkill and a serious threat, and Russia agrees.
In order to stop, or at least to delay the THAAD deployment, China has unleashed its powerful weapon – trade war. After South Korea’s Lotte Group approved a land swap with the South Korean government that will enable authorities to deploy the U.S. missile defence system, several Chinese companies say they will no longer do business with the South Korea’s fifth-largest conglomerate.
Lotte, which has more than 80 supermarkets in China, has been specifically targeted by Chinese authorities, ranging from fines for illegal advertising to suspension of sales of Lotte products to cyber attack of its website. Heck, even Lotte’s candy was targeted when a shipment of Lotte Confectionery’s yogurt-flavoured candy from Korea were confiscated by Chinese quarantine officials.
Over 150 factories, storage facilities and stores of Lotte affiliates, including Lotte Confectionery, Lotte Chemical, Lotte Department Store and Lotte Mart, have faced some form of government inspection. In December, 2016, Chinese authorities suddenly halted a 3 trillion won (US$2.6 billion) construction project for Lotte World Town in the north-eastern city of Shenyang, China.
China’s growing anti-Korea and anti-Lotte sentiment could see the Lotte Group being kicked out of the Chinese market altogether. Lotte also operates Korea’s second-largest cinema chain, and has 11 multiplexes, with 90 screens, in China. The corporation depends so heavily on China that the company derives US$2.64 billion of revenue in China.
Korean K-pop and K-drama were also dragged into the boycott when their celebrities were banned from appearing on Chinese broadcasts. Korea Times reported that no Korean entertainers have entered China since October, 2016. South Korean performers have been replaced with Chinese actors or actresses, such as when Chinese actress Angelababy replaced Korean actress Jun Ji-hyun for a modelling gig.
In December, 2016, China banned imports of 19 Korean cosmetics and by August, Chinese state media reported that restrictions would be placed on Korean TV shows. Korean programming is no longer being updated on Chinese video streaming websites like PPTV and Youku. The entertainment sector contributed a staggering US$5.3 billion to South Korean economy in 2014.
Like the U.S. liberal and pro-Democrats media, China state media is leading campaigns to boycott popular Korean products. Influential state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said that Lotte should be shown the door in China. The official Xinhua news agency said that China “did not welcome this kind of Lotte.”
In what appears to be a coordinated attack on South Korean products, social media and local news websites showed crowds vandalizing a Korean-made Hyundai car. Extreme campaign messages floating social media say – “Lotte Group is making fun of Chinese while making money in China. We have to retaliate for at least 30 years.”
Orders were also given to tour operators in Beijing to stop selling trips to South Korea. Chinese tourists visiting the tourist island of Jeju had fallen 6.7% over the Lunar New Year holiday from last year, partly due to China’s “anti-South Korea” campaign. The stakes are high. Of the 17-million people who visited South Korea last year, 8-million were Chinese.
South Korea is China’s third-largest trading partner while China is South Korea’s largest, with the latter exporting up to US$142 billion per year to the country. Korean stocks plunged on Friday, hitting cosmetics giant Amorepacific Corp, carmaker Hyundai, and airlines Jeju Air Co Ltd, Korean Air Lines Co Ltd and Asiana Airlines Inc.
The burning question is whether China is serious about pulling all the plugs on South Korea business in the mainland, or merely throwing tantrums, hoping the Kim-chi nation would cancel the THAAD missile system. But is the Korean willing to take the risk, knowing very well that they need the Chinese more than the Chinese need them?