Pundits were busy Wednesday when China began tests of its first aircraft carrier in the West Sea.
Park Byung-kwang, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, said the aircraft carrier "heralds the expansion of China's military power. If Chinese aircraft carriers enter or are stationed in the West Sea, this poses a direct or indirect threat to South Korea, and there is an increased possibility that Seoul will be forced to choose between China, which has been increasing its military might, or the U.S., which is cutting defense spending."
China could challenge the three-way missile defense cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the U.S. proposed by the U.S.
Park Chang-kwon, the chief military research fellow at the state-run Institute for Defense Analyses, said, "It's important for us to manage Chinese military power so it does not pose threat in the midst of the military standoff with North Korea."
The shifting power structure in Northeast Asia will put additional pressure on South Korea's finances, experts point out. The U.S. Forces Korea are likely to demand Seoul bear more of the cost for defending the country, and the government may have to increase the defense budget. The transfer of full operational control of South Korean troops to Seoul is also scheduled for the end of 2015.
Park Chang-hee, professor at the Korea National Defense University, said, "We need to push ahead with defense reforms that are currently underway to improve the military and cope with the changes."