|Kim Kwan-jin, chief of Korea’s National Security Office, left, shakes hands with Michael T. Flynn, national security adviser to the Donald J. Trump administration, in Washington on Monday. Kim met with reporters Tuesday and said the two agreed that the U.S.-led Thaad antimissile system will be deployed to Korea as planned. [YONHAP]|
Kim Kwan-jin, chief of Korea’s National Security Office, and Michael T. Flynn, the incoming U.S. national security adviser, confirmed that the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system will be deployed in Korea as planned, regardless of China’s opposition.
Kim and retired Lieutenant Flynn, who previously headed the Defense Intelligence Agency, held an hour-long meeting Monday in Washington amid uncertainty over what direction President-elect Donald J. Trump will take in policy about Korean Peninsula issues and China, as well as a leadership vacuum in Seoul.
The former Korean defense minister told reporters in Washington afterward on Tuesday, “In my meeting with Flynn on Jan. 9, we were in agreement that the Thaad definitely should be deployed as agreed upon.”
Flynn, the son of a Korean War veteran, also pledged to strengthen the Korea and U.S. alliance, describing the cooperation between the two countries as a “sticky rice cake,” according to Kim.
A relationship compared to a sticky rice cake, or chalddeok in Korean, is a perfect match.
Seoul and Washington’s decision to deploy a Thaad battery in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang last July in response to North Korea’s increased nuclear and missile threats has been strongly protested by China and Russia, who claim it goes against their strategic interests.
Kim said on China’s backlash to Thaad, “We have explained the legitimacy of the deployment of Thaad numerous times, and the United States has also explained its need to China.”
“Thaad is purely a defensive weapon and is a measure which falls within our right to self-defense,” he continued. “As much as this issue pertains to our sovereignty, we will not pay heed even if China opposes. While we expect many difficulties, Thaad definitely has to be deployed.”
The two security advisers confirmed there should be no gap in cooperation between Korea and the United States over the issue of denuclearization and deterring North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared in a New Year’s message at the beginning of the month that Pyongyang is currently in the “final stage” of preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Kim added on Pyongyang’s provocations, “North Korea’s nuclear weapons cannot be tolerated, and through strong and effective sanctions and pressure, it has to be led to the road toward denuclearization.”
When asked how Washington will react to Pyongyang making an act of provocation after Trump takes office, Kim added, “I think it may come out with a strong message,” without elaborating further.
Following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye last month, Korea was plunged into a leadership vacuum especially in regard to foreign affairs, and opposition lawmakers Wednesday criticized Kim for exceeding his authority by taking sides with Washington over the Thaad issue.
Opposition parties have increasingly voiced a need to reconsider the deployment of the Thaad battery in Korea because it is threatening relations with China.
Rep. Ki Dong-min, a floor spokesman of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, said on Kim’s remarks, “This is definitely an act exceeding an authority which clearly should not be taken by an impeached president and decisions on foreign and military affairs have to be decided by the next president and government.”
Opposition People’s Party Floor Leader Rep. Joo Seung-yong, said, “While it is good to be talking with the new Trump administration, it is desirable for our next administration to look into relations with the United States and China comprehensively before making decisions. There is a need to understand further if Thaad is the optimum weapon to defend Korea.”
This decision to deploy the Thaad system in Korea, which had been a hot potato issue in Seoul for years, is leading to increasing friction with Beijing. China has been levying unofficial sanctions on Korea, affecting tourism, the entertainment and cosmetics industries and in the military sphere as well. Beijing sent 10 military aircraft including strategic bombers into Korea’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Monday.
Lu Kang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, responded Wednesday to Kim’s remarks by warning, “There can be huge damage to Korea and Chinese relations” should Korea continue not ignore its opposition to the deployment of Thaad.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]