Is Kim a ‘Thaad ambassador’?

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Is Kim a ‘Thaad ambassador’?

According to diplomatic authorities in Seoul, China has responded positively to the appointment of former Blue House Security Adviser Kim Jang-soo to the post of Korean ambassador to China. Their response is based on the expectation that he will play a constructive role in Korea-China security cooperation because he has influence in the administration and can personally interact with the Blue House. Chinese diplomatic authorities have not openly commented on the appointment, but they expect him to enhance the relationship.

But China’s thinking is quite different from Seoul’s. The initial response of foreign policy experts in China was that the appointment is a strategic move with Thaad in mind. A professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University referred to Kim as a “Thaad ambassador.”

Given that Kim has a military background, Korean diplomatic authorities expect him to engage in talks with China. But China sees it differently. The Beijing Foreign Studies University professor said that there is no room for negotiations when it comes to Thaad, as Chinese President Xi Jinping has clearly expressed opposition to President Park Geun-hye’s plan last year. Instead, China expects Kim to persuade the Blue House and the United States to give up on Thaad.

Seoul and Beijing have different plans for Kim’s appointment. Seoul hopes that he will boost military cooperation. Currently, Korea and China’s military cooperation is limited to officer exchanges and mutual visits by high command. If the exchanges influence the two countries to become allies, it would help alleviate tension on the peninsula. But China wants more than to relieve tension. Beijing hopes to gain an understanding of U.S. operations through cooperation with Korea, and it especially wants to boost naval ties. As China rushes to establish a response system to America’s pivot to Asia, China has no reason to refuse strengthening its cooperation with ROK forces.

Because Kim served as the deputy commander of the ROK-U.S. Combined Command, he will likely be the first ambassador to China that the Chinese military command will want to contact. Some people have raised concerns over Kim’s stubbornness, which he displayed when he shook hands with Kim Jong-il at the 2007 inter-Korean summit. His conviction and principles may collide with the diplomatic culture of rhetoric and flexibility. A professor at the Chinese People’s University said that he is more interested in what he can learn about ROK forces from Kim rather than his diplomatic post. It means that Kim has more things to worry about than his predecessors.

*The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 17, Page 26

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