Adding to Lotte’s recent series of setbacks abroad, over half of Lotte Mart grocery and hypermarket outlets have been shut down in China.
As of Wednesday, a total of 55 out of 99 of Lotte’s signature grocery outlets have been temporarily closed, according to Yonhap News.
A spokeswoman for the group said that while Lotte’s grocery chains were affected by the closures, the events have had no impact on the conglomerate’s fashion retail operations in China. She added that all five of Lotte’s department stores in China, offering luxury and high-street fashion brands, remain open for business.
The spokeswoman declined to comment further on the current situation.
According to South Korean reports, Lotte’s overseas sales account for 15.3 percent of total group revenues. The conglomerate operates 120 retail outlets and 24 subsidiaries, and employs 20,000 staff in China.
Local media cites that the Lotte Mart closures are the latest in a string of setbacks Lotte Group has experienced in China due to a backlash against the firm’s perceived support for South Korea’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile deployment.
The conglomerate recently disclosed a new agreement with the South Korean government to hand over a golf course in exchange for other land. According to the government, the golf course will be used as a site for THAAD deployment.
Since the announcement, a number of Lotte’s shops have been shuttered in China; construction of its three trillion won, or $2.6 million, theme park in China has been suspended; the firm’s Chinese language duty-free web sites were reported to have been hacked, and Lotte’s products and Lotte Mart sections have been removed from a number of Chinese e-commerce sites.
At a press conference on Wednesday, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi called for the U.S. and South Korea to end THAAD. “The U.S.-ROK deployment of the controversial THAAD system in the ROK is the biggest issue affecting China-ROK relations at the moment,” Wang said.
“It’s not how neighbors should behave to each other, and it may very well make the ROK less secure. We strongly advise some elements in the ROK not to pursue this course of action, otherwise they will only end up hurting themselves as well as others,” Wang said.
Photos of protesters holding signs outside of Lotte outlets have been circulating on Chinese social media this week. Banners with slogans such as “South Korea’s Lotte has declared war on China. Lotte supports THAAD. Get the hell out of China,” were shared among users, according to Reuters.