Lotte China Theme-Park Project Halted Amid Geopolitical Tensions

Lotte Group said the Chinese government ordered the halt of the conglomerate’s 3 trillion won ($2.6 billion) theme-park project in northeastern China, in the group’s latest setback in a country that’s stepping up economic retaliation against South Korea for pushing ahead with the deployment of a U.S. missile shield.

The government order to suspend the development in Shenyang came in December but the group expects to get approvals to restart construction in March, a Lotte Group spokesman said. The move comes after the Chinese government launched safety and tax inspections on Lotte’s various stores in China in November, the representative said.

While the Lotte official played down a connection between the group’s setbacks and a political feud involving the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system known as Thaad, signs are mounting that Korean companies are getting tangled up in the dispute. As China blocks imports of high-tech bidets from its Asian neighbor to the cancellation of music concerts, Korea Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho has voiced concerns that China may be taking unfair and indirect action.

Queries to the Shenyang government about the Lotte project were directed to the city’s propaganda office. Calls to that office weren’t answered.

The Korean conglomerate, the nation’s biggest operator of hotels, theme parks and duty-free stores, is planning to build a so-called ‘Lotte Town’ in Shenyang by 2019, which will include shopping malls, a theme park, apartments and office buildings. Seven of Lotte units are joining the project with plans to invest about three trillion won, according to the group.

As to the timing of the halt, the Lotte official said building typically stops during the winter anyway.

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