China touts legislators’ visit to discuss Thaad

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China touts legislators’ visit to discuss Thaad

A state-run newspaper in China ran a front page story on a planned visit by six South Korean lawmakers beginning today aimed at listening to China’s complaints about Seoul’s decision to deploy a U.S.-made antimissile system.

The coverage by the Global Times has fueled controversy over the planned three-day visit by six first-term lawmakers of the opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, sparking a backlash from the presidential office and the ruling Saenuri Party.

The Global Times’ report on Saturday came as tensions have arisen between the two neighbors following Seoul’s decision to set up a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in Seongju County in North Gyeongsang by the end of next year. Beijing believes the system is meant to enable Washington to monitor its airspace activity.

The Saturday report supported the mission of the six Minjoo lawmakers, who have come under criticism from even their own party members, who say the trip will undermine Seoul’s position on the issue as well as its alliance with Washington. Some critics went so far as to call the planned visit an example of diplomatic humiliation and flunkeyism.

The Global Times described the six lawmakers as having withstood attacks by critics while their intention was to “further understanding between the two sides” on the Thaad issue.

The six Minjoo members, including Rep. Kim Young-ho, who has a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Peking University, are scheduled to attend a number of meetings with party officials, Chinese businessmen and scholars to listen to their case against the Thaad deployment.

In response to China’s criticism of the Thaad deployment and its coverage of the Korean politicians’ visit, the Blue House said Sunday that Beijing’s complaints and its claim that the Thaad decision would lead to provocations from Pyongyang - rather than defend against them - were unreasonable.

The presidential office urged the six lawmakers to cancel their trip, saying since it involved matters of national security, they were required to consult with the government before heading off.

It also expressed its annoyance signs of retribution from China, such as the cancelling of performances of Korean celebrities on the mainland. In a critical tone, the Blue House noted, “China should more actively address North Korea’s provocations before it raises issues with Thaad,” which Kim Sung-woo, senior presidential secretary for public affairs, called as “purely defense in nature.”

The six-member trip has revealed intra-party divisions on the issue. Minjoo interim leader Kim Chong-in openly stated his disapproval of the trip.

“I have no idea what they intend to achieve,” Kim said Friday, noting that their trip would be characterized by the Chinese media as a trip by anti-Thaad South Korean lawmakers. Kim also said opposition to Thaad carried the potential to undermine the Korea-U.S. alliance, which the 76-year-old former economist said was the “cornerstone” of national security.

The smaller opposition Peoples’ Party opposes the government’s decision on Thaad and has been courting Minjoo lawmakers to fall in line.

Amid deepening controversy, Rep. Kim Young-ho indicated Saturday in a post on social media there would be no cancellation and rebuked critics. “What about President Park Geun-hye’s visit to a military parade in China (last September)?” Kim said the controversy would get worse if the legislators succumb to pressure and cancel.

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