Xi pressed Park on Thaad systemChinese President Xi Jinping asked Korean President Park Geun-hye to turn down any U.S. request to deploy an advanced antiballistic missile system here, a senior defense source told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday.
“If the United States attempts to deploy Thaad in the South Korean territory with the justification of protecting the American troops stationed here,” the source quoted Xi as telling Park during their summit in Seoul in July, “South Korea, as a sovereign country, should exercise its right to express its opposition and the Thaad issue won’t be a problem between South Korea and China.”
The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, better known as Thaad, is a U.S. missile defense program designed to shoot down missiles using a hit-to-kill approach. Because it is equipped with a radar system that can cover more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), the deployment of a Thaad battery to Korea has been a sensitive issue. Both China and Russia claim it is against their security interests and may be used as a method of surveillance against them.
Beijing and Moscow may be especially sensitive to the AN/TPY-2 - a high-resolution, rapidly deployable X-Band radar designed to detect, track and identify ballistic missile threats at long distances and at very high altitudes, including space, for the Thaad system. This can put China and Russia in range.
Korea has said it will build its own shield, named as Korea Air and Missile Defense. Differently from Thaad, it focuses on a terminal-phase, low-altitude missile defense. But pressure from Washington has been consistent.
Xi’s request to Park came shortly after Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said he had proposed the deployment to counter growing North Korean threats. The comment was made during a lecture hosted by the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses on June 3, 2014.
“The visiting Chinese defense minister, Chang Wanquan, expressed China’s concern about the possible Thaad deployment when he had a meeting with his South Korean counterpart on Wednesday to follow up with Xi’s request,” the source said.
Another diplomatic source in Seoul said Chang’s mission for his trip this week was to more clearly express China’s position on the missile defense issue.
“I was told that the summit in July went overtime because Xi read a long, prepared statement and it included the remarks [concerning Thaad],” a China expert said. “At the time, President Park explained that Korea’s own missile defense system is different from that of the U.S. missile defense and is aimed at countering the North’s threats, not China. She said no worrisome situation for China will come of it.”
Because of the proximity of the two Koreas, the North’s shorter-range missiles, not ballistic missiles, are threats to the South.
During their meeting on Wednesday, Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo assured Chang that Seoul had not discussed the issue with Washington and that no decision was made, but the controversy surrounding the missile defense system is destined to grow.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, passed by the U.S. Senate and House Arms Service Committees in December, stated that the defense secretary should form an independent survey commission to create a report on missile defense cooperation measures with South Korea and Japan and submit it to the Congress before the end of this year.
Experts said the time has come for South Korea to be more proactive on the Thaad issue.
“The North’s missile technologies are improving. If we think we should accommodate a Thaad battery here, then we should push it forward, regardless of China’s concerns,” said Park Hwee-rhak, dean of the Graduate School of Politics and Leadership at Kookmin University.
BY CHANG SE-JEONG, SER MYO-jA [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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