China and South Korea shoot down differences over anti-missile defense system

By Li Jiacheng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/5 21:48:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Beijing and Seoul agreed to bring bilateral relations back on track on Tuesday last week after a year-long dispute over the deployment of the Terminal High Attitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea. According to media reports, South Korea has suffered a loss of $12 billion due to the deployment, which would cut economic growth this year by 0.4 percent. China, on the other hand, lost the trust of some South Koreans. Nevertheless, the two sides gradually realized that keeping the disputes hanging will only result in losses to both sides.

Recently, China sent a series of positive signals to mend ties after the THAAD standoff. On October 24, the Chinese and South Korean defense ministers held their first talks in the Philippines in almost two years. On the same day, a Chinese travel agency posted an advertisement for group travel in South Korea. Three days later, China sent a vice-ministerial level official to attend National Foundation Day of South Korea celebrations in the South Korean Embassy. On the same holiday last year, no heavyweight Chinese guest was present.

The South Korean government later approved LG Display and other companies' investment plans in China. Following the 19th CPC National Congress, South Korean President Moon Jae-in sent a congratulatory message to Xi Jinping wishing to see him soon. On Monday last week, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha announced that Seoul will not participate in the US-led missile defense networks, is not considering additional THAAD deployment; military cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo will not extend to a military alliance, and the current THAAD system in the country will not jeopardize China's security interests. Seoul has extended an olive branch to Beijing through the commitment, guaranteeing that the nation will not become a US military outpost. At the same time, South Korea hinted that anything against its sovereignty related to security will not be up for discussion.

China hoped South Korea can fulfill its commitment and get Sino-South Korean ties back on track. Both sides want to take the bilateral strategic relationship ahead.

Since China has made major concessions to recognize the reality of THAAD deployment in South Korea, Seoul's actions to fulfill its commitment are the key to whether bilateral relations will keep improving. But it will be a bumpy way.

THAAD system is operated by the United States Forces Korea (USFK) and the intelligence it gathers will be obtained directly by the US. Although Seoul promised it will not participate in the US-led global missile defense system, with THAAD it has already been part of it. How can South Korea guarantee that THAAD operated by USFK will not target China? As the system doesn't cover the capital area, if North Korea conducts more nuclear and missile tests, South Korea will again consider more THAAD deployment.

Besides, the US, Japan and South Korea have already formed an intelligence-sharing alliance and the enhanced South Korea-Japan defense cooperation has laid the foundation for the trilateral military alliance.

The latest détente means a good start for warming China-South Korea relations. The two agreed to communicate about China's concerns over THAAD system through military channels. Since THAAD concerns cannot be resolved without US involvement, strategic negotiations are needed among the three countries.

Ahead of talks, China and South Korea should reach a tacit understanding through high-level meetings. The Chinese and South Korean presidents have decided to meet again during the APEC summit in Vietnam from November 10 to 11.

Moon may also meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during the ASEAN Summit in Manila from November 11-14. The two countries are seeking to arrange Moon's visit to China this year and Xi attending PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in February. These will help bring the relationship back to normal.

The THAAD dispute has revealed the vulnerability of Sino-South Korean ties. The two countries need time to deal with side effects of the issue, and should temper the emotions of their populations to cement a strategic partnership.

The author is a research fellow at the Research Center for the Economies and Politics of Transitional Countries, Liaoning University.


blog comments powered by Disqus