THAAD pushes South Korea to forefront of geopolitical contention

By Zhao Lixin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/8 21:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The first pieces of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) arrived at the Osan Air Base in South Korea Monday night.

There used to be a fierce debate over the THAAD deployment among South Korean media, academia and public, which have taken a turn since mid-2016. With the THAAD installation entering the implementation stage, the South Korean public opinion has shifted to support the government.

Seoul's mainstream public opinion insists that the main motivation for the THAAD deployment is the escalating tensions arising from Pyongyang's nuclear threat and that Beijing should understand their defensive move.

Seoul may feel disappointed as it thinks that China did not persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons so it would rather resort to Washington's shield when it comes to national sovereignty and security.

The illusion that China will finally accept the THAAD deployment and the contradictions between Beijing and Seoul have led South Korean authorities to ignore dissenting opinions.

Both the government and the academia in South Korea convey a message to the public that the country's relations with China and Russia are generally optimistic. They claim there have been some great achievements made by China and South Korea over the past 25 years, since the establishment of their diplomatic ties, and that economic cooperation and mutual trust remain to be the foundation of their bilateral ties. Consequently, a strategic compromise between the two neighbors is expected in the future.

South Korea may have predicted the changes the deployment of THAAD will bring to its ties with China. Nonetheless, the THAAD deployment will not only frustrate the Sino-South Korean ties and Seoul will not merely face the so-called countermeasures from Beijing. More importantly, Seoul will lose the geopolitical balance that has been benefiting it since the end of the Cold War.

A nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, peaceful reunification of the South and the North, balance in Northeast Asia, among a variety of many other objectives, have always been what South Korea is striving for. These goals had forced the country to play a positive role on the regional political stage. But now the deployment of THAAD has pushed Seoul to the center of geopolitical contention.

It is the strategic interests of the US and its army based in South Korea instead of South Korea itself that the anti-missile defense system aims to protect. And the fact that it is to be deployed in Seongju county of North Gyeongsang Province means the country's political, economic and cultural center is far beyond the scope of THAAD's defense. Therefore, Seoul serves as no more than Washington's tool to monitor and contain Beijing and Moscow strategically.

Even from a pure military perspective, the THAAD system can hardly protect South Korea. Once a war is waged, it will be the primary target in the countermeasures by China and Russia.

The THAAD installation will trigger international strategic imbalance and further dismantle the unified front against nuclear weapons. In addition, the reunification process of the Korean Peninsula will likely be halted by a US-led arms race. If a new Cold War erupts, South Korea will be at the forefront of the battlefield. This is not a curse but a foreseeable fact.

Seoul is gradually departing from its historical direction and losing its sense of balance. Fear of Pyongyang and complaint about China have prompted it to play a vanguard role in Washington's rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific.

It is beyond comprehension that it would rather be a subordinate ally than an equal partner.

The author is director of the Department of International Political Science, College of Political Science and Public Management, Yanbian University. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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