The government and the ruling party agreed Tuesday to consider filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization over Beijing's economic sanctions against Seoul's deployment of a U.S. missile defense system. The agreement comes from their belief that China's retaliation goes against WTO rules barring trade restrictions for political reasons.
''Regarding the issue of filing a complaint with the WTO, we agreed to actively weigh the option,'' Lee Hyun-jae, the chief policymaker of the governing Liberty Korea Party, said after a government-policy consultation meeting. Another option is for Korean businesses to file a lawsuit under the investment clause of the Korea-China free trade agreement.
Given China's string of retaliatory steps, including banning performances of Korean entertainers in the country and forcing Lotte's retail outlets to shut down, our government is right to vow strong responses. Hurt by China's arrogance, most Koreans will obviously support Seoul's legal actions.
Nonetheless, the matter needs meticulous scrutiny before the government makes a final decision. More than anything else, to file a complaint with the WTO, Seoul should clearly prove that Beijing has taken retaliatory actions in protest of its decision to host the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery. But this is easier said than done.
For example, the Chinese government last week told travel agencies to stop selling packaged tours to Korea verbally, not through official documents. China also cited the failure to observe safety regulations when it slapped a ban on the customs clearance of Korean cosmetics and foods.
Some Korean companies fear that Seoul's legal actions might irritate Beijing and backfire. This is why the Korean government should not rush into such a decision only to avoid criticism about its alleged complacency.
What is certain is that Korea must not respond in kind even though China is stubborn. It is necessary to refrain from emotional responses and persuade China to comply with our decision logically.
It's long overdue to minimize China risks by diversifying our export markets and foreign visitors. If these attempts come to a successful close, the latest THHAD conflict with China will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.