US report mistaken in South Korean automakers' loss in China

By Su Tan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/27 23:28:40

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional commission of the US government, claimed Wednesday in its report that Beijing has used economic coercion to retaliate against South Korea for its 2016 decision to deploy the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system on its soil. As proof of China's economic coercion, the report used decreases in March sales of South Korean automobiles and foodstuffs in China and downsized bilateral exchanges.

The commission's selective use of data seems to have perfectly shown how terribly South Korea has been victimized by China's economic retaliation. However, the truth paints a different picture.

According to South Korea's official statistics, from January to March this year, South Korea's exports to China increased by 17.6 percent on a year-on-year basis, and its imports from China grew by 15.6 percent. South Korea enjoys an upward trade surplus with China that went up by 22.6 percent year-on-year. China remains South Korea's biggest export destination and import source. In comparison, South Korea's exports to the US in the same period decreased by 2 percent.

The report said that "Chinese sales of South Korean carmakers Hyundai and Kia dropped 52 percent year-on-year in March as consumer boycotts hit the brands." The commission may have found the reason, but it is unfortunately the wrong one. The fall in sales of South Korean cars resulted from a variety of reasons. These brands are not as attractive as their competitors from Japan and Germany, and their products are not localized enough to cater to Chinese consumers. This is rather a long accumulated outcome than a political one.

Indeed, cultural exchanges in tourism and entertainment have decreased. The Chinese foreign ministry has explained more than once that China takes a proactive and open attitude toward bilateral exchanges and cooperation, but it also needs corresponding public support. It says that South Korea had better listen to public opinion. When Seoul's insistence on the THAAD deployment to dovetail the US strategy jeopardized China's national security, it's totally natural that the agitated Chinese public would make their own choice.

In fact, it is the US that is a veteran manipulator of economic sticks to strike countries not to its liking. Washington's stepped-up sanctions on Russia have worried its EU allies recently. And only on Wednesday, the US imposed fresh sanctions on 13 senior Venezuelan officials. If the US does want to protect South Korea, it should stop driving a wedge between its Asian ally and China, not the other way around.

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