Moon engages in delay tactics as policy of ambiguity on THAAD fails

By Zhao Lixin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/12 19:03:39

South Korea's new government announced a last-minute decision to suspend the ongoing deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system pending a proper environmental impact study. The Moon Jae-in administration called for further deployment to come to a halt after the country's deputy minister for defense policy was relieved from duty for intentionally omitting a section about the progress of the missile defense system.

This move is widely viewed as a "Fabian strategy" the Moon Jae-in government must take in order to deal with internal and external pressure. In actuality, the incident in which the defense official deliberately withheld critical information on the arrival of several more launchers is nothing less than a political earthquake. It has exposed a barrier in communication between the government and the army, with the latter gravely challenging the former's authority further arousing doubt and antipathy among the public.

Given the fact that the initial two launchers have already been deployed, Moon's call for a full-blown environmental impact assessment for the four additional ones makes good on his campaign promise, establishes the authority of a new administration and in the meantime may deliver a personnel reshuffle in the army.

Outside the country, the THAAD installation has caused enormous harm to the strategic partnership between Beijing and Seoul. South Korean society has underestimated the resolve, willpower and measures of China and Russia in countering the missile intercept system. South Korea can no longer be able to retain its balance by relying on the US for security guarantees and counting on China for an economic bonanza. Seoul is mired in multiple dilemmas in security, diplomacy and economy.

According to South Korean media, key components of a THAAD battery, including a radar system and two missile launchers, were installed on a former golf course in Seongju, North Gyeongsang, on April 26 and the environmental impact study may take up to two years. Clearly, it is indicating that Moon's government resorted to delay tactics when a strategy of ambiguity failed.

Nonetheless, the environmental impact assessment may not alter the ultimate result. The Blue House has not released any signal to actually stop or cancel THAAD's deployment, which of course would not gain approval from Beijing or Moscow. Washington will not be very concerned in the near future and is expected to show understanding.

There is no doubt that Moon aims at tackling his predecessor's political legacy via diplomatic means. Implementing an environmental impact assessment provides a pertinent excuse, not only to appease the fury of China and Russia but also to reverse public opinion at home. This "Fabian strategy" reflects the anxiety of the new government.

In actuality, what THAAD's deployment will bring about for South Korea is what should be assessed.

In the arena of security, THAAD's installation has shattered the global strategic balance and severely damaged the strategic interests of China and Russia. Seoul will face harsh countermeasures from both countries.

From a long-term perspective, the deployment will precipitate a strategic reshuffle in the Northeast Asian region and further strain tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Politically speaking, the launch of the powerful missile defense system has damaged the political mutual trust between South Korea and China. The Chinese leadership has more than once expressed sincerity to maintain friendly ties with South Korea. However, South Korea helped the US select locations to deploy THAAD when the South China Sea arbitration case emerged, lending a helping hand to the US to impose pressure on China.

Meanwhile, THAAD's deployment has also worsened the North-South ties.

Economically, the boycott from Chinese public has spread from culture and tourism to almost every industry. In light of its heavy dependence on China's market, the boycott may have disastrous consequences. South Korean cars, smartphones and other products that once had extreme advantages in China are inevitably being replaced by local products.

US President Donald Trump said South Korea should pay the cost of installing and operating THAAD and even claimed he would renegotiate the free trade deal with the country. Meanwhile, the US has unilaterally expanded trade protectionism, further deteriorating the environment for South Korea's exports.

Moon is scheduled to visit the US later this month. By then, THAAD-related issues will inevitably be on the agenda. Many people wonder if Moon will finally speak up with the voice of South Korea in the face of Trump.

The author is director of the Department of International Political Science, College of Political Science and Public Management, Yanbian University.


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