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Business

Hyundai's new China head tasked with damage control

South Korean automaker's sales hit hard by missile defense issue

A Beijing plant of Hyundai Motor's joint venture in China.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- Hyundai Motor has tapped Tan Tao-hung to lead its China division, hoping that his Chinese background can foster better relations with local partners and contain damage from South Korea's deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system.

Tan took the reins of Beijing Hyundai, a joint venture with China's BAIC Motor, earlier this month. He has previously worked as head of Hyundai's Chinese headquarters and was in charge of launching a commercial vehicle joint venture in Sichuan Province. Afterward, he returned to South Korea, where he was in charge of Hyundai's China business strategy for the last year.

Tan is replacing Chang Won-shin, who has served for less than 11 months. Hyundai hopes that Tan, a Chinese-Korean with experience in China, will be able to improve communication with BAIC, which has been so poor that it contributed to a factory shutdown. Both Chang and his predecessor, who were more familiar with the U.S. and other countries, failed to develop mutual trust with their Chinese counterparts, according to observers. Hyundai's Chinese division has been hurt by six leadership changes in the last six years, said one Chinese newspaper.

Hyundai's Chinese sales have stalled since topping 1.7 million units in 2014. Sales during the January-August period of this year have plummeted 45% on the year due to Chinese backlash against South Korea's deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, anti-missile system. Tan is charged with repairing relations with BAIC and Chinese authorities, while keeping the damage from the THAAD controversy to a minimum.

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