March 17, 2015 12:54
China's Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao met his South Korean counterpart Lee Kyung-soo in Seoul on Monday and told reporters that they had "candid and free discussions" over the issue of deploying U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missiles on the Korean Peninsula.
Liu expressed China's hope that South Korea and the U.S. make an "appropriate" decision on the issue. "It would be appreciated if Seoul takes account of China's concerns and worries," he added.
Beijing does not want the THAAD missiles here because they form the core of Washington’s missile defense system aimed at containing China.
Beijing several times voiced its concerns, but never this publicly. In July of last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Park Geun-hye that the deployment of THAAD missiles on the Korean Peninsula goes against China's interests. And China's Defense Minister Chang Wanquan made the same comments to Defense Minister Han Min-koo during his visit to Beijing earlier this year.
At the time, a Defense Ministry official said China voiced its concerns in several ways, but declined to elaborate.
Chinese government officials have been even more explicit when voicing their opposition through unofficial channels, and some comments could be construed as threats. Some reports even claim that China has told the South that the deployment of THAAD missiles here could lead to economic repercussions or prompt Beijing to warm up to Pyongyang again.
The THAAD missile system is an effective deterrent against North Korea's increasingly sophisticated missiles since it intercepts incoming ballistic missiles in the upper tier of the terminal phase, when the missile turns toward the target. The military here believes the system can supplement the PAC-3 Patriot interceptor system, which is the only defense Seoul has against North Korean missile attack and intercepts incoming missiles in their final stages of approach at a lower altitude. The issue involves South Korea's national security and is a matter that must be decided in negotiations between Seoul and Washington. Yet South Korea and the U.S. have been pussyfooting around the issue for fear of agitating China.
It seems the problem is becoming quite serious. Seoul and Beijing's relationship has much more room to grow, but both sides need to respect each other's boundaries if the ties are to last and grow stronger.
The government here officially denies that any plans for THAAD deployment exist. If China has exerted strong pressure, Seoul will find it impossible to avoid the issue much longer. It would be much better to stop dithering right now.
Seoul must ensure that ties with Beijing are no irreparably harmed, but it also needs to put its foot down and stand up to pressure. The government has to come clean and explain to the public exactly what has been going on.
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