CHINA / DIPLOMACY
S.Korea proceeds with THAAD to enhance alliance with US, 'risks China ties'
Published: Sep 19, 2022 10:47 PM
Anti-THAAD protestors, using mesh to connect themselves, are at a stalemate with the police as the South Korean military planned to transport construction equipment and materials into Seongju-gun for construction of the THAAD base in South Korea on April 12, 2018. Photo: VCG

Anti-THAAD protestors, using mesh to connect themselves, are at a stalemate with the police as the South Korean military planned to transport construction equipment and materials into Seongju-gun for construction of the THAAD base in South Korea on April 12, 2018. Photo: VCG



 
The South Korean government has reportedly advanced the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system, by granting more land to the US for the operation of the unit in Seongju, a move that represents a risky path of enhancing Seoul's alliance with Washington at the cost of China ties, analysts said.

Observers warned that escalation of the situation and further deployment of THAAD risks dragging China-South Korea relations into the abyss again, which is against South Korean interests, as the US is never a reliable ally.  

China and South Korea had a series of diplomatic interactions, as the two countries celebrate their three decades of diplomatic relations. China's top legislator Li Zhanshu said during his visit to South Korea last week that handling sensitive issues properly is crucial to the healthy and stable development of bilateral ties. Earlier in August, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and exchanged views on the issue, agreeing that both sides' security concerns should be respected and the two countries should make efforts to properly handle THAAD-related issues so that they will not become a hurdle in bilateral relations.

However, South Korea should not mistaken the communication and positive signs in bilateral relations as China's acknowledgement and acceptance of the "normalization" of THAAD, observers noted. 

South Korea's Yonhap News quoted diplomatic and military sources as saying on Monday that senior South Korean foreign ministry officials and US military commanders had signed a document on THAAD land provisions, completing all the related procedures.

A total of 730,000 square meters of land, including 330,000 given five years ago, have been granted. The handover, following the formation of an environmental impact assessment panel, signifies that efforts to "normalize operations" of the base have entered their final stage, Yonhap reported.

Zhan Debin, director and professor at the Center for Korean Peninsula Studies of the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, told the Global Times that the current South Korean government is very determined to deploy THAAD despite local protests and China's opposition. 

China has held a consistent stance that friendly countries can develop relations with other countries based on their interests, but those relations should not target China or harm Chinese interests, Zhan said. 

Since taking office, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has been pushing forward the alliance with the US. Yoon is about to meet US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, likely "with trade, the won value slump and Peninsula issues on his mind," said analysts. 

Yoon and Biden may discuss the US Inflation Reduction Act, which excludes electric vehicles assembled outside North America from tax incentives, raising concerns it will act as a significant trade barrier for Korean-made cars, Yonhap reported Sunday.

Zhan said that US foreign policy has always milked allies to serve its own interests — former US president Donald Trump spoke about "America first" out loud while Biden thinks it. Therefore, Seoul should carefully evaluate what it can get from a closer alliance with the US and what it may lose.

Yoon may have thought that by advocating their similarities in systems and values, South Korea can secure a "more equal" status in trade and other cooperation with the US. But the inflation act is a lesson and Yoon will gradually realize he "thought too well of the US." 

On security, the US could make commitments and require South Korea's cooperation in drills and weapons deployment, but "the commitment can never be verified until a nuclear conflict scenario really happens," Zhan said. When it happens, the US can abandon South Korea at any time. 

The expert also noted that the closer South Korea stands with the US, the smaller its room for maneuver to maintain autonomy.