THAAD can be halted under Moon govt

By Xie Guijuan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/21 21:28:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party was sworn in as the new South Korean president earlier this month. Given his lukewarm attitude toward deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system on South Korean soil, debates are surging in both China and South Korea over whether Moon will reverse his country's position on this thorny issue.

It is likely that Moon will stop THAAD's deployment. The US has only begun moving THAAD to South Korea and there is still time for South Korea to call for a halt. The ruling party has requested to immediately stop the illegal deployment of THAAD, which is backed by the South Korean public.

Prior to the presidential election, anger had boiled over in many parts of the country, with many holding up signs reading "Illegal THAAD, back to the US!" Many South Koreans believe THAAD will not protect them and will only serve US interests in the region.

There is also the possibility that the US, the real hand behind THAAD, will stop its deployment. US President Donald Trump has reiterated his demand that South Korea pay $1 billion for this anti-missile system. South Korea's interim leader Hwang Kyo-ahn rejected this request and the issue appears stuck in a deadlock. The new Moon government may propose to renegotiate the deal and nullify the previous agreement.

"At the end of the day, if the reality unfolds in a way that South Korea's national security and the economy were damaged because of the THAAD, not because of the North Korea issue, then it's not really a rational situation, is it?" Choi Jong-kun, a foreign policy adviser to Moon told Reuters in March.

The Trump government is determined to solve the North Korean nuclear issue and needs South Korean support. If Seoul requests a withdrawal of THAAD in return for its support to the Trump government over the North Korean issue, this may be workable.

The China factor also matters. China has been firm and consistent in opposing the deployment of THAAD. Since South Korea decided to deploy THAAD, Chinese authorities have yet to launch official sanctions.

The huge economic losses South Korea has suffered are a result of the Chinese public's anger. South Korea, which relies heavily on China economically, needs to weigh its potential gains and losses carefully.

Despite reportedly unconfirmed missile launches, North Korea hasn't conducted its sixth nuclear test. Many believed the country was intentionally waiting for a pro-Pyongyang leader in South Korea. Both South Korea and the US have signaled that they would engage and talk with North Korea. The "Sunshine" policy toward North Korea may face obstacles, but it is still possible to be adopted.

Nonetheless, China must remain alert that South Korea may use the THAAD issue as a bargaining chip to get China to impose pressure on North Korea. As long as the threat from North Korea's nuclear weapon program exists, South Korea has the excuse to deploy THAAD or pursue its own nuclear weapon capability.

Therefore, China should try to develop both political and economic ties with South Korea, but it must make it clear that economic ties serve political goals. Besides political communications, China should engage in more economic cooperation to boost the bilateral political relations.

South Korea has great strategic value for China. China needs a friendly South Korea to prevent the US from further enhancing its clout in Northeast Asia.

South Korea should not abstain from China's Belt and Road initiative and China's endeavor to revive its northeastern region. It is not China's enemy but an important partner. Both Beijing and Seoul should take Moon's presidency as an opportunity to promote warmer bilateral relations.

The author is associate professor with the School of Political Science and Public Administration, Yanbian University. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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