Beijing’s officials won’t say it, but they’re thrilled to see the impeachment of South Korea’s president Park Geun-hye.
The night before the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the state broadcaster devoted close to an hour of rolling news coverage to protests in Seoul against Ms Park.
It’s become a common theme through China’s state outlets — interviews with demonstrators in Seoul, backed up by Chinese analysts, presenting viewers a one-sided narrative about Ms Park’s signature foreign policy, a US missile defence system.
While the reasons for her impeachment were domestic — a massive corruption and influence-peddling scandal — China’s interest centres around her decision to allow the United States to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile shield.
Ms Park’s government wanted to install the radar and missile batteries to protect against potential strikes from an increasingly erratic North Korea.
Pyongyang’s regime has been defying United Nations sanctions by carrying out a series of ballistic missile and nuclear tests.
China is North Korea’s primary economic and diplomatic ally, and despite suspending North Korean coal imports and condemning the latest missile tests, Beijing seems unable or unwilling to do more to reign its smaller neighbour in.
But China has all along seen an ulterior motive to South Korea’s response, claiming the powerful radar that THAAD uses to detect missiles would penetrate parts of China’s northeast, allowing the US to spy on Chinese missile tests, and undermine Beijing’s nuclear deterrent.
As far as Chinese leaders are concerned, the deployment of major American military hardware so close to China is further proof that the US is hell-bent on encircling and containing the country’s rise.
So, aside from a substantial diplomatic and propaganda effort, Chinese authorities have more recently started retaliating economically.
Thirty-nine retail stores for Lotte — the South Korean company that has granted land for THAAD — have been shut for failing local inspections, while a major Lotte resort project in the north-eastern city of Shenyang has also been suspended.
Flights and cruise ship visits for Chinese tourists to South Korea have also been halted, in unofficial moves that China’s central Government won’t publicly admit are directly linked to THAAD.
Now, Beijing’s campaign is bearing fruit.
The deteriorating relationship between Seoul and Beijing has become a talking point for South Korea’s Opposition lawmakers.
The Opposition figure best positioned to run and win the snap elections prompted by Ms Park’s impeachment, Moon Jae-in, wants to suspend the deployment of THAAD so as to subject it to parliamentary scrutiny.
Continuing pressure from China could help swing popular sentiment and the next administration firmly against the missile shield deployment.
And if so, Beijing may get the backdown from Seoul it desires, and could add it to a growing list of US diplomatic setbacks in the region, including the Philippines’ shift towards China and the self-induced scrapping of the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact.
By China correspondent Bill Birtles