Diplomacy after the fact

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Diplomacy after the fact

China’s opposition to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in South Korea goes way beyond our expectations. If Beijing puts its opposition into action, it will surely affect not only Seoul-Beijing relations but also Washington-Beijing ties. It will most likely cause trouble in the struggling joint front against North Korean nuclear weapons. So our government must persuade China that it is not under threat.

Exactly 50 minutes after the Thaad announcement by Seoul and Washington, China issued a statement of vehement discontent and resolute opposition to the deployment, in contrast with a statement that came six hours after the North’s nuclear test in January. In a statement, China’s Ministry of National Defense also warned it could consider measures necessary to protect China’s “strategic security” and “strategic balance” in the region, hinting at a possibility of military counteraction.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that any excuses by Seoul and Washington are meaningless because the Thaad deployment far exceeds South Korea’s demand for protecting itself. Wang urged Seoul to reconsider the deployment after asking itself whether it would really benefit South Korea and address its safety from nuclear threats from the North. The Global Times, a sister paper of China’s state mouthpiece People’s Daily, ran an editorial urging China to sanction Korean government organizations, companies and politicians involved in the Thaad introduction.

China’s resistance is predicted. If our government had gone through the process of persuading Beijing ahead of its decision to deploy, it could help ease China’s resistance. Nevertheless, both Seoul and Washington abruptly announced the decision, skipping the diplomacy that should have preceded it. As we have some time left until the real deployment, our government must do its best to persuade Beijing.

North Korea’s advanced nuclear capabilities pose serious threats to our security. Would China have acted the other way around if it were South Korea? Would it simply watch the developments in the naïve hope of an inter-Korean dialogue resolving the nuclear threats? If a country is really a sovereign state, does it not have a right to introduce a defense system even stronger than Thaad? Many Koreans argue that if China had been stronger from the outset, we could have not come to this point. In reality, China must understand our position.

Beijing suspects the Thaad system is in fact aimed at China and could break the strategic balance in Northeast Asia by precisely monitoring China’s missile bases. Uncle Sam must not forget that South Korea will hurt first if China takes any retaliatory action.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 11, Page 30
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