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South Korean business people in downtown Seoul, where Chinese tourists once packed the streets before the decision to deploy a U.S. missile shield in their homeland, complained about falling profits as a result of fewer Chinese customers.
Lee Jae-myung, mayor of Seongnam city in southeast of Seoul affiliated with the biggest opposition Minjoo Party, held a conference on Monday with the merchants from Dongdaemun and Myeongdong, two of the most popular shopping malls for Chinese travelers.
Lee, one of the three major presidential hopefuls of the Minjoo Party, met with them to listen to what happened to local businesses since Seoul and Washington abruptly decided in July last year to install one THAAD battery by the end of this year.
The deployment process has recently gained speed as Lotte signed a contract last week with the defense ministry to exchange its golf course for military land. The number of Chinese tourists began falling sharply after the signing.
A merchant representing Dongdaemun shops told the conference that the shopping center, composed of around 37,000 clothing stores, got slack recently as the number of Chinese visitors tumbled. If this trend continues, many of shops will be forced to shut down, he said.
A Myeongdong merchant said the business in the shopping area has customized the Chinese visitors as the shops depended on the Chinese people for profits. He said the bustling streets filled with Chinese customers before the THAAD outbreak was growing quiet gradually.
The THAAD had a ripple effect beyond small street stores, conspicuously reducing the number of Chinese tourists visiting the duty-free shops of Lotte Department Store near Myeongdong.
Even small exporters began to be hit hard by the THAAD deployment decision. A chief executive of a shoes plant in an industrial complex in Seoul, composed of about 800 shoes manufacturers, told the conference that many of the factories seeking to sell products to China recently faced difficulties because of the THAAD issue.
The executive asked Mayor Lee to help them restore normal businesses in China.
Lee said THAAD will do no good to South Korea's security though it will benefit the United States, noting the U.S. missile shield in his country will only raise threats of war on the Korean Peninsula and destabilize the entire region.
THAAD has a limited capability to intercept missiles from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) as it is designed to shoot down missiles at an altitude of 40-150 km. Most of DPRK missiles targeting South Korea fly at an altitude of less than 40 km.
THAAD's X-band radar can peer deep into territories of China and Russia, causing strong backlashes from the two countries. It can eventually break the strategic balance and raise the possibility of a war.
Earlier in the day, discussion for the Minjoo Party primary was held among the three major candidates, including former Minjoo Party head Moon Jae-in and Ahn Hee-jeong, governor of South Chungcheong province.
During the discussion, Lee reiterated his stance that the THAAD deployment decision must be dropped as South Korea will become a target of nuclear missile attacks while pushing Northeast Asia exposed to arms race.
Asked by Xinhua about local media's little focus on fundamental issues of THAAD, such as whether it can protect South Korea from DPRK missiles, Mayor Lee said appropriate information has not been given to people.
He said politicians must express their responsible views on THAAD, while collecting public opinion through open discussions. He noted many of South Koreans still believe THAAD is capable of intercepting DPRK missiles.
The mayor stressed the THAAD deployment in South Korea will only do damages to both South Korea and China.
An early presidential election is forecast to be held in May as the constitutional court is highly likely to rule on the motion to impeach President Park Geun-hye on or before March 13. The impeachment motion was passed in the parliament on Dec. 9.