A wave of anti-South Korean sentiment has broken out across China
The government-controlled news media, in brassy editorials, has urged boycotts of South Korean products.
Students, retirees and taxi drivers have led protests against South Korean businesses.
Tourism officials have ordered several mainland travel agencies to cancel group trips to South Korea.
Frustrated nationalists have vowed not to eat kimchi or Korean barbecue.
South Korean bands have been denied visas to perform in China,
and South Korean shows have disappeared from Chinese television and streaming services.
The furor poses a test for President Xi Jinping of China.
On the one hand, Beijing is seeking to pressure South Korea to abandon THAAD, which officials see as a threat to China’s security.
On the other, Chinese leaders are eager to maintain good relations,
especially as South Korea grapples with a political crisis that could result in the removal of its president, Park Geun-hye,
and the election of a candidate willing to reconsider the missile system.
Backlash in China Against Anti-South Korea Campaign
The campaign against South Korean businesses has divided the Chinese.
Some say it is necessary to counter American military might in Asia.
Others warn against such nationalism,
arguing China should find more amicable ways of engaging South Korea, a close economic ally.
“Peace is most important,”
said Liu Yuanyuan, 25, an employee at a German pharmaceutical company in Beijing.
“Countries should not threaten one another.”
For all the bombast in the news media, some have urged restraint, questioning the wisdom of efforts to drum up criticism of South Korea.
Zhang Mengjie, 29, who adores South Korean boy bands like BTS, said boycotts of South Korean goods and artists were irrational.
“These stars are just there for entertainment, they don’t want to engage in politics,” Ms. Zhang said.
“They have nothing to do with it.”
Referring to the people who were protesting against Lotte, she added:
“I don’t think this is real patriotism. They just go with the flow, act impulsively and use extreme rhetoric.”
For Chinese citizens with relatives and friends from South Korea, the backlash has created anxieties.
Dong Mengmeng, 24, a ski coach from the eastern province of Anhui, is planning to get married next month
to her South Korean fiancé, Jung Jaeyoon, 27, in Gyeongju, South Korea.
But she said that because of the tensions she had been unable to secure tourist visas for 11 Chinese relatives to attend the ceremony.
“I’ve been hijacked by nationalism,” she said.
Ms. Dong said she was often in tears and that her mother was afraid to inquire about the status of her visa application
because she was worried that she would be harassed.
In response to the Lotte protests, a poem mocking the government’s efforts to drum up nationalism circulated on social media this week:
In the morning I hate America,
At noon I hate Korea,
In the evening, I hate Japan.
When I don’t I have a lot of time, I squeeze in hate for Taiwan and Singapore.
At night when I dream, I hate Vietnam and the Philippines.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of formal ties between China and South Korea.
But in a sign of the tensions between the two countries, there is no plan in place yet to celebrate the occasion.
Analysts said that the protests might be short-lived and that
Chinese leaders probably did not want to stoke too much animosity with elections looming in South Korea.
“These initiatives would typically peter out quite quickly,”
said Pal Nyiri, a professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam who studies Chinese nationalism.
“The government has been following the same policies —
fostering nationalism and then using it, but also being wary of it getting out of hand.”
Many Chinese people are already finding it difficult to uphold a boycott,
given the preponderance of popular Korean goods — makeup, face masks, kimchi — on the shelves of Chinese stores.
Zhang Xin, an electrician, stopped at a Lotte store in Beijing on his way home, and bought a bag of ribs to make lunch for his wife. He said he supported the boycott.
“South Korea is always blustering at China; they are arrogant,” Mr. Zhang, 49, said. “In the future, I will shop here less.”
Just not today.
Problems For SK Conglomerate Lotte
Much of the ire against South Korea has focused on Lotte,
a conglomerate that operates 112 stores with some 13,000 employees in mainland China.
The company, which entered China in 2008, has been overwhelmed with protests and scrutiny by the authorities
since it decided to provide land in South Korea for the deployment of the American antimissile system.
As of Thursday, the Chinese authorities had closed nearly half of Lotte’s stores in the mainland, citing safety violations, the company said in a statement.
One store was fined about $3,000 for using hand-radios that emitted “illegal wireless signals.”
On Wednesday, the authorities ordered the monthlong closing of a chocolate factory
jointly owned by Lotte and the US company Hershey after the results of a fire inspection.
Protests erupted again at Lotte stores this week
after US officials announced that they had begun to install the antimissile technology,
known as the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, in South Korea.
In Beijing, there were scattered voices of discontent, including Mr. Li’s.
He said he had first heard about Lotte’s land deal on WeChat, a popular messaging app,
where a petition calling the company a “traitor and enemy of the Chinese people” was circulating.
“I had a lot of hope for the future of China and South Korea,” he said.
“Now I worry South Korea is changing.”
In Kunming, a southern city, students at Yunnan Minzu University posted a sign denouncing Lotte on the door of their dormitory.
The Chinese news media has played a central role in fueling the protests.
An opinion article by Xinhua, the official news agency, last month suggested that
Lotte was an accomplice in an effort to undermine China and that it was no longer welcome in the country.
An editorial in China Youth Daily last week urged a boycott.