SEOUL-- Sales of South Korean duty-free stores slightly improved on-month in June, data showed Saturday, after suffering months of decline due to the falling number of Chinese visitors amid Seoul's diplomatic tensions with Beijing.

According to the data compiled by the Korea duty-free Shops Association, the combined sales of local duty-free stores from foreigners advanced 5 percent on-month in June at US$688 million, marking a rise for the second consecutive month.

The number of foreign visitors to such shops also increased 3.9 percent over the cited period at 1.06 million.

The improvement is significant as South Korea has been suffering from a decline in Chinese tourists in line with Beijing's protest against deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system in South Korea.

Beijing has been strongly protesting the deployment, claiming the system will have an adverse effect on its military strategy. Seoul claims the deployment is vital to improve its defense capabilities against Pyongyang's provocations.

The latest sales of foreign tourists fell 22 percent from February before China rolled out its economic retaliations to South Korea.

Local duty-free stores claim it will take more time to normalize sales, saying the latest improvement is attributable to large discounts and marketing efforts and cannot be considered a full-fledged recovery.

"We are expanding marketing costs to maintain sales, which may lead to higher operating losses," an industry insider said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency