In South Korea, the Lotte Group allowed a golf course they own to be used for the United States’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile system. In response, mainland citizens, encouraged by government officials, began boycotting goods from South Korea and many protested at Lotte Marts in China. State-owned media claimed that Lotte’s decision was immoral.
Lotte’s actions, however, are justified. If patriotism is a legitimate reason for the citizens of China to boycott Lotte, then the same reason can be used for Lotte in providing the piece of land to their government.
It was an act of patriotism for Lotte to aid its government. Let’s face it, even if Lotte has been expanding its business in China, that does not mean their loyalties lie with China and not Korea.
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If we look back at what happened in 1998, we can see that many Korean companies are especially supportive of their nation. During the financial crisis, South Korea was nearly bankrupt. In response, South Koreans donated their own jewellery and gold to cover the country’s debts. Private companies including Samsung, Daewoo and Shinsegae Department Store joined the campaign, collecting millions of dollars’ worth of gold. It is only natural for Lotte to assist its government and there is nothing immoral in that.
All this mainland criticism should not be borne alone by Lotte. It is more of a government issue. If we hope to air grievances towards THAAD’s possible breach of national security, then such anger should be aimed at the South Korean government and the US government. There should be protests at US or South Korean embassies, not at the doors of Lotte Marts. It should be a protest by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs against the governments of the US and South Korea, not a call to citizens to boycott Korean supermarkets. Hurling insults at a corporation is no act of patriotism, it is simply a way to let off steam.
There is a striking resemblance with the previous protests against Japan over the Diaoyu Islands. Furious protesters attacked Japanese citizens and Japanese stores in China – a clear mismatch between the target they hoped to protest against and the target they were actually harming.
Yet, with Donald Trump as president of the US, there is unpredictability in the South China Sea, and more conflicts may arise between China and South Korea. This is why we must be extremely careful with any nationalist sentiments and with the way we express our patriotism.