South Korea's Lotte Group will face severe consequences if it allows the South Korean government to deploy a US anti-missile system on land that now forms part of a golf course it owns, China's state-run Xinhua news agency has warned.
The comments come soon after Lotte said this month that Chinese authorities had halted work at a multi-billion-dollar real estate project following a fire inspection, amid South Korea's worries that Beijing is retaliating for its plans to host the system.
China has repeatedly expressed opposition to South Korea's planned deployment later this year of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, which Seoul and Washington say is needed to defend against North Korea.
China worries the system's powerful radar can penetrate its territory.
THAAD is a threat to regional security and stability, Xinhua said in an English-language commentary, adding that Lotte was"one decision away from becoming an accessory to the act".
If Lotte, South Korea's fifth-largest conglomerate, agrees to the deal, the South Korean and the US governments will hasten the planned deployment, Xinhua said late Sunday afternoon. "By association, Lotte will hurt the Chinese people and the consequences could be severe," it added.
"The Chinese people will not support a company complicit in damaging China's interests." Such commentaries are not government statements, but can be read as a reflection of official thinking.
Lotte should defer or reject the deal, forcing the South Korean government to review the feasibility of the deployment, Xinhua added. "One misjudged step could have severe consequences." Beijing is widely believed in South Korea to be discriminating against some of its companies and cancelling performances by Korean artists without explanation.
China understands South Korea's need to protect its security but Seoul still needs to respect Beijing's concerns about the deployment of THAAD, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his South Korean counterpart over the weekend.
North Korea's most recent test firing of a ballistic missile on Feb. 12 drew condemnation from the United States, South Korea and Japan, which urged an "even stronger" international response to Pyongyang's violations of UN resolutions.