After Thaad, China might not sanction North Korea

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After Thaad, China might not sanction North Korea

South Korea’s decision to deploy a U.S.-made advanced missile defense system has raised concerns that China will not cooperate with the international community in imposing additional sanctions should North Korea conduct its fifth nuclear test.

The long-anticipated deployment of the missile system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad), raised immediate protests from Beijing, as it views it as a cover for Washington to surveil its airspace using the penetrating radar that comes with the Thaad system.

The decision to set up Thaad in Seongju County in North Gyeongsang, some 230 kilometers (143 miles) south of the demilitarized zone, has left the government in Seoul with the tricky business of dealing with China’s frustration over Thaad.

Analysts here say with the decision on the Thaad deployment, chilly relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, which began after North Korea’s third nuclear test in 2013, are about to come to an end as Beijing feels it needs North Korea more than ever as a buffer against the United States and its traditional ally South Korea.

“With South Korea and the U.S. now moving ahead with Thaad, it is likely that China will embrace North Korea in order to restore regional strategic balance upended by the prospect of the Thaad presence,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a policy think tank.

Cheong also noted China and Russia may not cooperate with other UN Security Council members to slap additional sanctions on North Korea should it decide to conduct its fifth nuclear test.

The UN Security Council was able to levy its toughest-ever sanctions on Pyongyang in March to punish it for its fourth nuclear test in January, which was followed by its ballistic missile launch the next month, largely thanks to support from Beijing and Moscow.

Cheong said the main reason China gave its “active support” for the sanctions was to draw Seoul into forsaking the Thaad option.

Koh Yoo-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, said the North may feel “more liberated” from Chinese pressure to now conduct its next nuclear test.

“It could either conduct its fifth nuclear test or launch another missile,” he said.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinku@joongang.co.kr]

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