On Monday, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao expressed Beijing’s opposition to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, an anti-ballistic missile shield designed to shoot down the incoming missiles closer to the point of origin than we can currently can, at a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Lee Kyung-soo. Even though Thaad was not included in the agenda for the talks between Seoul and Beijing, the senior Chinese diplomat abruptly suggested the possibility of bilateral ties being estranged if the anti-ballistic missile system is deployed in Korea. He also leaked the news to the local news media. His act constitutes a brazen form of blackmail beyond diplomatic discourtesy.
Such behavior by China is not new. In a summit between President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping last July, Xi also expressed his opposition to the Thaad system by threatening economic repercussions. Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Qiu Guohong is also known to have made high-handed remarks on the issue in a meeting with Saenuri Party lawmakers last December. After a lawmaker complained about China’s uncooperative attitudes toward the international community’s campaign to block North Korea’s nuclear program, Qiu simply repeated China’s opposition to the missile shield.
To tell the truth, the Thaad system is only under review as a deterrent to a North Korean nuclear missile attack. So far, South Korea has no intention to introduce the shield on its own, and the United States has not decided to deploy the system on its military bases in Korea. Even if Thaad is deployed by U.S. forces in Korea, China’s worries that it will be used to keep watch on its forces’ movements through its radar are ungrounded, as the authorities are considering the idea of restricting its effective radius to 600 kilometers (373 miles), which falls short of reaching Chinese territory.
We are concerned about China’s overbearing attempt to weaken the very foundation of the Seoul-Washington alliance. The Thaad system is not an issue that can be addressed by fights between two superpowers: It’s a matter the Korean government must decide on its own. In fact, the controversy over Thaad is an offshoot of Beijing’s acquiescence to Pyongyang’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. Needless to say, the rationale for Thaad would disappear if the North’s nuclear threat vanished. China must roll up its sleeves to denuclearize the North before resorting to coercive diplomacy that infringes on South Korean sovereignty.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 18, Page 30