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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 12)

2017/10/12 07:07

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Taking Beijing to WTO

Acquiescence can't tame bull in china shop

Korea should stop its appeasement tactics in dealing with China's unfair and protectionist trade practices because they are only emboldening it to defy the global rules-based way of doing business.

Seoul has an obligation to let Beijing's ill practices be known to the world and together with the international community turn it into a rule-abiding global citizen.

For that purpose, Korea should seriously consider taking the matter to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for a corrective ruling on a wide range of possible violations. At the top of the list is Beijing's move to keep tourists from traveling to Korea. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists have been reduced to a trickle following Korea's decision to deploy a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile interceptor system. Seoul's explanation that THAAD is a minimum self-defense step against North Korea's missile threat fell on deaf ears, and China made it abundantly clear that with no THAAD removal, there would be no tourists.

China's claim that the reduction of Korea-bound tourists was the result of individuals' changed preferences sounds laughable for being a poor imitation of a democracy which China is not.

Then, Lotte and E-mart, big Korean retailers were harassed by a sudden surge in tax audits and citations of violations related to fire safety. They are folding their businesses there.

Hyundai Motor's China operation came to a halt amid payment delays to parts suppliers. It is a joint venture — Hyundai is in charge of production and sales, with the Chinese dealing with finance. Although the payment delays were attributable to slow sales, there was speculation it was part of the package of China's retaliatory measures against THAAD.

Also included in the list were Chinese banks' disapproval of overseas remittances by Korean firms and delayed permit issuances.

A look at these cases shows a long pattern of Chinese behavior — luring foreign firms for technology and knowhow and kicking them out when their usefulness is up and local firms gain competitiveness. The Chinese market is growing, as it should; but it is not just Korea's but all other trading nations' mission to make sure China plays on a level playing field.

For that, it is regretful Korea passed the recent WTO secession without complaining about China's bad practices. It complained in March and June before the Moon government took charge. The reversal was expected as the presidential office last month intervened and corrected the top trade representative Kim Hyun-chong, who floated the idea of asking for WTO action. Cheong Wa Dae renounced such a course of action, citing China's role in the North Korean crisis, among others. But acquiescence has not worked and only encouraged China to take Korea lightly. It's time to call a spade a spade and take responsibility for that. That is a behavior that fits the size of Korea.