Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
After South Korean conglomerate Lotte approved the land swap with its government, allowing the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, boycotts against South Korea have emerged from the Chinese public and then, the China-South Korea relations reached an unexpected freezing point.
The US has the upper hand in its alliances with both Japan and South Korea. US Defense Secretary James Mattis reassured the US commitment to its allies during his tour to the two Asian countries in early February. Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command, and John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, both requested that China's "sanction" on South Korea should be prevented. McCain also asserted that China's "economic retaliation" against South Korea is "bullying."
Japanese Defense Secretary Tomomi Inada hailed the US military deployment. South Korean Foreign Ministry Spokesman Cho June-hyuck said the deployment is "a sovereign, self-defensive measure to defend national security and people's lives from North Korea's nuclear and missile threats." Lee Hyun-jae, chairman of the policy committee of the ruling Liberty Korea Party, said that Seoul will "actively" consider filing a complaint against China to the World Trade Organization in response to China's boycott of its products and companies over the THAAD issue.
With the US and Japan's connivance and a stubborn South Korea, Seoul has turned itself into a pawn in the games between superpowers.
South Korea, together with the US, has neither responded to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's remarks and advice nor come up with better solutions to solve the current conundrum on the peninsula.
Wang said that the deployment has greatly damaged the China-South Korea relations, describing the THAAD deployment as "obviously a wrong choice" which is "not a way that a neighbor should behave and may put South Korea into an even more dangerous situation."
Wang said the top priority now is for North Korea to suspend its missile and nuclear activities while the US and South Korea halt their large-scale military exercises, namely the suspension-for-suspension approach. He urges the politicians in South Korea to heed his advice before things get out of hand.
Before the Chinese government could announce any sanction measures against South Korea, some members of the Chinese public took it upon themselves to boycott Lotte. Other South Korean enterprises in China believed they were the victims of this diplomatic row and even speculated that China would ease its sanctions on Pyongyang and strengthen ties with North Korea.
This year, China and South Korea are supposed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of their bilateral diplomatic relations. I once highly praised that the China-South Korea relations are in a golden era. But, given a series of critical events including the impeachment of South Korea's president Park Geun-hye, the death of Kim Jong-nam, half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and US-South Korea joint drills, which have already undermined the security in Northeast Asia and the regional strategic balance, the THAAD deployment again has turned Seoul into a "trouble-maker" and soured its the relations with Beijing.
A "cold peace" has become the "new normal" in the Korean Peninsula as a possible war is looming.
China, as a responsible power, will not sit back and look on as the crisis on the Korean Peninsula damages China's security interests.
China's possible sanction on South Korea should be rational, moderate and effective. China should also remind South Korea of the consequences if it fails to listen to China's advice.
Meanwhile, China should insist that the Korean Peninsula issue cannot be solved through wars and all sides should return to peace talks.
The author is a professor at the College of Political Science and Public Management, Yanbian University. firstname.lastname@example.org Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion