March 03, 2017 11:58
China has intensified a crackdown so-called zero-dollar tours to Korea, where big tour groups are herded through the country for little money but heavily pushed into shopping.
The move comes after Lotte Group on Wednesday signed a deal with the government here to hand over a site for the deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S.
According to tourism industry sources in Beijing, the China National Tourism Administration told the top 20 Chinese travel agencies to stop offering group tours to Korea.
Meanwhile, China's biggest state-run travel agency, CTS, has reportedly scrapped visits to Lotte duty-free shops, a prime destination for the shopping trips, and Lotte Hotel from its package tours. Chinese tourists account for more than 70 percent of revenues in Lotte duty-free shops.
Beijing says the crackdown has nothing to do with the deployment of the THAAD battery, whose radar China fears will be used to spy on its military activities, but the timing is striking. Some 30 to 40 percent of the 8 million Chinese tourists who visited Korea last year came through state-run travel agencies.
The same day, Lotte suffered a massive hacker attack on its shopping websites that has been traced to Chinese IP addresses, which are a favorite attack channel for North Korean hackers.
The websites generate around W4 billion in revenues a day and account for a quarter of total sales, and Lotte said the DDoS attack resulted in around W500 million worth of lost revenues (US$1=W1,144).
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that China opposes all forms of hacking. "As for the guesswork of Lotte, I won't make a comment. But I think there is no clear answer as to the reason (for the attack). This is just their guess," Geng said.
But while the hacking attack points to involvement from North Korea, which is after all the real target of the THAAD battery, Beijing also started a sweeping safety inspection of all Lotte Mart superstores in China on Wednesday. Inspectors also conducted surprise safety checks of Lotte-owned stores there in November last year.
Meanwhile public sentiment is souring. Some restaurants in Beijing have posted signs saying they do not serve Koreans, while a popular online music store in China removed all Korean songs.
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