S Korea approaches WTO over China economic retaliation

China's apparent retaliatory measures over the deployment of the US military hardware to the Korean peninsula hit Korean conglomerate Lotte Group the hardest, with up to 90-percent of its stores in China being shut down or notified to do so as of March 19.

The trade ministry asked China to "comply with its obligations" and raised the issue of possible violation of WTO rules with the Geneva-based organisation, minister Joo Hyung-Hwan told Seoul lawmakers.

China has relentlessly protested that the THAAD deployment would undermine its security interest in the region despite Seoul and Washington's assurances that the deployment is only meant to guard against North Korea's ballistic missile threats. The ministry confirmed that the government accused Beijing of breaching the MFN and national treatment regulations, more as to bring worldwide spotlight to Chinese action as it won't be easy to file legal charges against China.

The ministry said it will provide legal counseling and other consulting services to companies that export goods to China. He did not give further details. The Chinese government has taken a broad range of actions to impair South Korean interests after the USA and Korean military acted out their plan to install a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in Korea on a plot of land owned by Lotte Group.

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Critics in South Korea are voicing concern over the apparent lack of countermeasures and complaints from government officials in the face of a series of retaliatory acts from Beijing, including the closing down of more than 63 Lotte Mart stores in China.

China is South Korea's largest trading partner and the dispute over THAAD has resulted in a sharp decline in Chinese tourists in South Korea's shopping districts.

The South Korean government has offered cheap loans and extended deadlines on existing debt to help businesses that have been affected and has pushed to diversify trade markets.

"We support normal business and other exchanges between China and South Korea", the spokeswoman told a daily news briefing yesterday. "But everyone knows this needs a corresponding basis in public opinion".

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Tensions have risen between the countries over the decision to bring the missile-defence system, known as Thaad, onto South Korean soil.

Seoul's options, however, look limited.

Efforts to hold direct discussions between the finance ministers of China and South Korea at a G20 meeting in Germany at the weekend fell through after Beijing declined Seoul's request to meet, citing scheduling reasons.

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