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THAAD row prompts Chinese copycat to change tactics

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Xue Bing Yuan Su, a Chinese copycat of Korean dessert cafe chain Sulbing.
Xue Bing Yuan Su, a Chinese copycat of Korean dessert cafe chain Sulbing.

By Park Jae-hyuk

Chinese copycats of Korean brands have recently begun to change their strategies, as China's boycott on Korean firms has become fiercer amid Beijing's economic retaliation against the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery here.

Xue Bing Yuan Su, a Chinese copycat of the Korean dessert cafe chain Sulbing, announced on its official website last week that "We are a Chinese enterprise, so we are committed to the development of China's dessert business."

Xue Bing operates about 300 stores in China ― about 10 times more than the original Sulbing which only runs 28 stores there.

Having applied for the related trademark right before Sulbing opened its first store in China in 2014, the copycat has pretended to be the original Korean brand, putting Korean language on signs and walls of its franchise stores.

Xue Bing promoted itself as "Korea's new concept dessert" in Korean, while the original Sulbing uses the phrase, "Korean dessert cafe." The Chinese brand had Korean language on its official website as well.

Such a strategy worked quite well thanks to the popularity of Korean food and culture in the world's most populous country. However, the Chinese business appears to have no choice but to confess its identity under the recent THAAD row.

"Against South Korea's deployment of the THAAD battery, Xue Bing made it clear that we firmly support the national security and interests of the Chinese people," Xue Bing noted. "In the future, we will bring you healthier and more delicious desserts. We hope you can always support us! Support Xue Bing in China!"

Until now, famous Korean franchises, including Sulbing and Hosigi Chicken, have suffered from Chinese copycats seeking to cash in on the Korean wave there. They have checked the viability of lawsuits against the imitators.

Consumer rights day

Korean brands in China also fear they might be easy targets of Chinese TV programs in time with Consumer Rights Day, which falls on March 15.

On that day, Chinese broadcasters tend to come up with programming accusing specific brands of selling defective products or providing poor after-sales service. Many corporations such as Apple, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volkswagen have fallen victim to the attacks of late.

Korean tire maker Kumho Tire became a target in 2011. The firm, which once fared well in the Chinese market, struggled to find its feet after it was attacked on TV.

Industry officials said Korean companies in cosmetics, food and beverage businesses will likely face accusations, because the TV programs mainly target goods related to end consumers.

Eyes are on Lotte, which is under fire in China for providing land for the THAAD battery. Already around a half of Lotte Mart outlets in China have had their operations suspended this year, which critics say is clear retaliation by China against the missile defense system.

Park Jae-hyuk


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