Moon’s delay tactics on THAAD unlikely to impair Washington-Seoul alliance

By Zhang Dongming Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/2 21:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited the US on June 28-29 as his maiden trip overseas since inauguration and met with his counterpart Donald Trump. Moon's official trip to the US has garnered wide attention because it will not only set the tone for the development of bilateral ties in the future, but also act as a gauge of how important South Korea will be on the global arena.

In an interview with the Washington Post earlier, Moon said "getting the environmental-impact assessment does not mean that we will cancel or reverse the decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system." Moon told CBS on the same day, "I believe that dialogue is necessary. We were unable to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through only sanctions and pressure." He stressed that building a peaceful regime on the Korean Peninsula with Trump would be the most fruitful achievement that the two could achieve during their terms in office.

Therefore, the THAAD deployment remained a key topic during Moon's two-day tour to the US.

But the fact is that South Korea's decision to deploy the system has impeded its relations with China and Russia. The Moon administration is attempting to walk a fine line among them.

The US is taking a tough stance on the deployment of THAAD to maintain its absolute strategic advantage over China and Russia. This tough stand can be seen from Trump's claim that South Korea should pay the cost to deploy and operate THAAD.

The deployment of THAAD poses a threat to the strategic security interests of China and Russia. Consequently the two countries have given a strong negative reaction. Moon publicly declared that his government would not take the decision to deploy the THAAD system made by the previous administration lightly, but the deployment must go through due process, which involves an environmental-impact assessment.

The move to suspend the deployment of THAAD under the guise of a full-blown environmental impact study is widely viewed as a delaying tactic the Moon government must take to address strong opposition from China and Russia. The US finds it hard to say no to Moon's move as the White House always champions "legal process." In addition, a scant power supply affecting the operation of the already deployed part of the THAAD system would serve as a "technical means" for the Moon administration to constrain further deployment of this missile defense system.

The THAAD deployment constitutes an important component of the Asia-Pacific defense system built by the US. In this regard, the US is likely to have an alternative plan for the deployment of THAAD. On May 30, Moon ordered a probe after the Defense Ministry failed to inform him that four more launchers for the THAAD anti-missile system, with just two launchers initially deployed, had been brought into the country. Therefore, even if the deployment of THAAD fails, the US will seek an alternative.

The delay tactics the Moon government has adopted are probably to deal with strong protest from China. The Moon administration attempts to convince China to accept the deployment of THAAD, in a bid to obtain understanding from the Chinese government.

In addition, the Blue House will ramp up pressure on Beijing by deploying the THAAD system and asking the Chinese government to take substantial measures to stop North Korea's provocative actions, as a way to mitigate the nuclear threat from the North Korean regime.

All in all, despite disagreements in specific issues, Washington and Seoul share the same final goal. Whether the US-South Korea summit can settle or smooth these disagreements will exert profound influence on their alliance and the overall situation of the Korean Peninsula.

The author a professor and director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies Research Center for the Economies and Politics of Transitional Countries, Liaoning University. He is also a distinguished fellow of the Co-Innovation Center for Korean Peninsula Studies of Yanbian University.


blog comments powered by Disqus