Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
The China-South Korea relationship has seen some fluctuations due to the latter's insistence to deploy the US anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. It has also impacted in interactions between the two peoples and enterprises from both countries. There are heated discussions and debates over this issue at both government and public levels in China and South Korea.
In China, a few scholars have objected to economic retaliation against South Korea. This is normal as there has never been just one voice in China's opinion sphere. However, the South Korean people have all agreed to counter China's "economic retaliation."
One especially worrying sentiment is that Beijing-Seoul relations have entered the post-THAAD era, as the deployment of THAAD has become a reality, there is no need for China to take countermeasures.
This notion, however, is based on misinformation, as China's stance toward THAAD has never changed.
There are several reasons behind the dissipation of opposition voices against THAAD in China. South Korea is preparing for an early presidential election due to the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye. China does not want to stress over the THAAD issue as it may be exploited by South Korean politicians.
In South Korean politics, the North Korean nuclear issue has always been used as a tool for politicians to attack each other. China does not want to make itself a topic of discussion in South Korean politics when the bilateral relationship is already at a low ebb.
With important international news occurring every day, coverage on THAAD has gradually faded. The THAAD issue has been on the front page of the mainstream media in China and South Korea for a long time, and now, it has receded into the background.
Therefore, some South Korean scholar and media believe China has become less vocal about THAAD, which led to the impression that China's stance has changed. Some South Korean media even amplified the voices of a few Chinese scholars who oppose the retaliation against THAAD. A number of Chinese media outlets also promoted such ideas.
In fact, the Chinese public's anti-THAAD sentiment has not softened. It has even extended to other enterprises beyond Lotte which agreed to provide land for THAAD deployment. Hyundai and Kia, both South Korean motor companies, have suffered sales slump in China, and other related industries have felt the chill of the Chinese public.
At the government level, China has been firm in its stance toward THAAD and is preparing to use diplomatic, military and political means in response to THAAD. The just concluded meeting between the leaders of China and the US also placed this issue at the top of their agenda.
The THAAD issue has become a major hindrance of Beijing-Seoul relations. As time goes by, it will be more and more difficult to resolve. Some forces are pushing the deployment process by exploiting the current political chaos in South Korea. No matter which candidate enters the Blue House, his first diplomatic puzzle will be ties with China and THAAD.
If South Korea intentionally ignores the THAAD issue, it will not settle the controversy but only add difficulties to solving the problem. Both countries should face up to the issue, look for solutions, and engage in friendly relations.
The author is director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University. email@example.com