The diplomacy-defense tightrope

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The diplomacy-defense tightrope

Beijing made it clear that it is opposed to the U.S. deployment of an advanced anti-ballistic missile defense system in South Korea.

During a meeting in Seoul with Korean counterpart Han Min-koo, Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan relayed concerns about installing the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery, also known as Thaad, in Korea.

Beijing made its protest through an envoy here, though this is the first time a top Chinese official has raised the issue during defense talks.

Han said there had not been formal requests from the United States nor discussions on the matter between the two governments. During his state visit to Korea in July, Chinese President Xi Jinping also expressed concerns about the possibility.

However, the issue of military deployment is between Seoul and Washington, and it is inappropriate for Beijing to mount diplomatic pressure on a matter that hasn’t been formally discussed. Whether Korea hosts a Thaad battery is up to us to decide, as it is a sovereign affair. Before raising questions about the anti-missile defense system, Beijing should do more to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and threats to the South by attempting to contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Thaad is a defense and deterrence arms system designed to shoot down mid-distance missiles. Thaad missiles have an estimated range of 200 kilometers (125 miles) and can reach an altitude of 150 kilometers. The high-resolution deployable X-Band radar AN/TPY-2, for instance, can cover more than 1,000 kilometers, according to, a website on the military industry.

China’s ballistic missiles can reach U.S. territory at an altitude of 2,000 kilometers. The Thaad, therefore, is considered the most suitable to counter scud and midrange missiles from North Korea.

The government must consider Thaad deployment from a security perspective, particularly because North Korea is coming closer to having nuclear bombs that fit onto missile warheads.

The discussions should not undermine the traditional Korea-U.S. alliance. If Seoul does decide on deployment, it should at least make diplomatic efforts to mitigate any misunderstanding on Beijing’s part. Korea must also exercise its diplomatic skill and wisdom to balance both its traditional alliance and its strategic partnership.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 6, Page 30

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