A boycott turns into a blip
The New York Times reports (paywall) that even though China’s government has relentlessly tried — and succeeded, particularly in the cases of supermarket chain Lotte and automaker Hyundai — to punish South Korea for installing a U.S. missile defense system (known as THAAD), Chinese consumers can’t seem to get enough of most South Korean products. China imported $88.1 billion worth of goods from its northeastern neighbor from January to August this year, up 12 percent from last year.
What’s going on?
- “I support my country and love my country, but I don’t think this should affect my consumption decisions,” one aficionado of South Korean snail-slime based cosmetics told the Times.
- Many other Chinese have an abiding love for Korean music, movies, and TV, which has not been dampened by official efforts to cut off foreign TV streaming.
- South Korea remains a manufacturing hub for technology such as semiconductors that gets shipped to China before ending up in iPhones and other products. This accounted for $23 billion in trade, and Chinese manufacturing techniques have not quite caught up to the South Korean level.
This is not to say that real economic harm hasn’t been inflicted to some South Korean industries by China. It has, and the South Korean government is offering tax help and loans to those shut-out industries back in their home country, Reuters reports. Chinese tourism has also decreased markedly to South Korea. But just because the highest levels of China’s government are obsessed with what they see as South Korea’s geopolitical sins — even more so than North Korea’s, as recently as a week ago — doesn’t mean that Chinese consumers feel the same way.
China does have a long, deep history of animosity toward South Korea and its culture, but boycotts can only last so long. After all, the Times says, even a 2012 boycott against Japan lasted little more than a year.