Dozens of Lotte stores suspended in China amid missile row

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Lotte has invested more than $8 billion in its Chinese operations and has a total of 120 outlets across the country, such as this store in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province

South Korean retail giant Lotte has been forced to shut down dozens of stores in China, it said Tuesday as diplomatic rows over a controversial US missile system sparked boycott calls against Seoul.

Lotte has faced growing opposition in China since signing a deal to provide land to host the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system loathed by Beijing.

The first parts of the system -- intended to guard against threats from nuclear-armed North Korea -- arrived on Monday and China fears it would undermine its own military capabilities.

Chinese officials have shut down 39 out of retail chain Lotte Mart's 99 stores in the country over fire safety concerns, a Lotte spokesman said.

Each Lotte Mart employs about 130 Chinese workers, the spokesman said, adding the suspensions, if prolonged, would put nearly 5,000 jobs at risk.

"We are afraid that the recent development may cause a loss of thousands of jobs for Chinese people," he told AFP.

"We will ask the South Korean government for diplomatic support to help resolve the incidents believed to be retaliations," he said, without elaborating further.

Lotte -- the South's number five business group -- has invested more than $8 billion in its Chinese operations and has a total of 120 outlets in the country.

Chinese protesters have held demonstrations denouncing Lotte, which was previously forced to halt construction of $2.6 billion theme-park project in the northeastern city of Shenyang by state safety inspectors.

Beijing has not directly threatened Lotte Group, but it vowed Tuesday to "resolutely" defend its security interests.