The official campaign for South Korea's presidential election kicked off on Monday. Polls suggest that among the five candidates, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party are running neck-and-neck, making the May 9 election results more unpredictable.
Earlier, the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD
) anti-missile system created tensions in the Beijing-Seoul relationship. According to Bloomberg, a senior White House official claimed that it's up to the next South Korean president to decide whether to complete the scheduled THAAD deployment
. Although Seoul reiterated the anti-missile defense battery will be installed without delay, the next South Korean government's attitude on the THAAD issue has attracted a great deal of attention.
Presidential frontrunner Moon said earlier on his campaign trail that the THAAD installation should be "pushed to the next government" and would have to be preceded with "diplomatic efforts." Another presidential-favorite Ahn was also previously known for his opposition to the THAAD deployment, holding that Seoul should negotiate with the Chinese government on the issue. However, the two frontrunners have virtually dropped their objections to THAAD in a bid to woo conservative voters and secure the US security umbrella.
In fact, whoever is elected, China stays resolute in its opposition to the THAAD deployment. The anti-missile defense system reaches deep into the hinterland of Asia, posing direct threats to China's security interests and those of other regional countries. Instead of effectively protecting South Korea from attacks, the system would only provoke the North to take more radical actions, expanding the already-tense situation to a broader geopolitical sphere.
The new president may adjust Seoul's foreign policies, but the strategic positioning of the Korean Peninsula has already been determined, and Seoul's foreign policies are, to a large extent, influenced by Sino-US ties, especially in issues related to the peninsula. Seoul's pursuit of security should not be realized at the sacrifice of China's strategic losses, but has to be on the basis of Sino-US cooperation. While Seoul announced the deployment of the THAAD system under the pressure of Washington, the latter attempts to strategically dominate the region by means of the THAAD installation. The new South Korean president should take the current situation into consideration before making any strategic decisions.
Given China's strategic interests in the region, Beijing will never back off from its position against the THAAD system no matter who is elected as the new president. China will not interfere in South Korea's presidential election and other internal affairs, but the positioning of the Beijing-Seoul relationship is clear, and the THAAD deployment will for sure trigger countermeasures from Beijing.