Consequences of THAAD deployment cause South Korea’s dilemma

By Cai Jian Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/11 19:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, owing to the Choi Soon-sil (a close friend of Park) scandal, has been impeached by parliament on Friday, which has intensified the recent chaos in the country and put future Beijing-Seoul ties in uncertainty.

The deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) has deteriorated relationship between South Korea and China, after which the South Korean media has accused China of imposing pressures on the country. Some even criticized China for lacking "manners" as a big power, which is not appropriate though.

China repeatedly showed its objection to the deployment of THAAD. When pursuing its own interests, a country must not harm the interests of the others, especially strategic interests. However, THAAD will cause damage to China's strategic security. It is reasonable for China to make some response.

This is the same as China's attitude toward North Korea. China and North Korea have a lot of common interests. However, China supported the UN's sanctions given North Korea's development of nuclear weapons because it undermines China's interests. Now South Korea chooses to support the US strategy to contain China and jeopardize China's interests. It has to bear the consequences of China's reactions, which is not related to the manners of a country.

Deploying THAAD in South Korea is an important part of the US Missile Defense Program. Rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific was an important strategy of Obama administration. In order to put China's rapid rise in check, Obama expanded military presence in the region. Taking advantage of the North Korean nuclear crisis, he actively promoted the deployment of THAAD in South Korea.

THAAD's main objective is to deter the strategic weapon systems in China's hinterlands and Russia's Far East regions. The system is of little use for preventing North Korea's nuclear weapons and bringing security to South Korea. As a defensive means, it just safeguards the security of American troops based in South Korea. Judging from its location, the system does not protect Seoul and its adjacent metropolitan areas, and THAAD's deployment can only lead to more strong repercussions from other countries.

China and Russia will have to strengthen their missile penetration technologies in response, which may cause military buildups in instead of bringing peace to the region.

Park believes China is unlikely to carry out real sanctions on South Korea as the close economic exchanges between the two countries mean that if China enforces sanctions on South Korea, the economy of both countries will be affected. At present, China has yet to take strong countermeasures and has always attached great importance to its relationship with South Korea, which has been taken for granted. If Sino-South Korean relations are to be improved, China cannot make concessions to gain South Korea's support. On the contrary, it is South Korea who should devote itself to the improvement of bilateral relations by thinking seriously whether it is appropriate to deploy THAAD.

South Korea's Constitutional Court will spend six months ruling on the validity of Park's impeachment. If the conservative Saenuri Party withstands the turmoil, THAAD deployment would likely continue. However, if opposition party gets the chance to lead the country, South Korea might adjust its policy for THAAD, contributing to a better Sino-South Korean relationship. In the future, China needs to apply appropriate reactions toward South Korea according to these changes.

The author is a professor of the Center for Korean Studies, Fudan University.


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