Beyond differences over ThaadChinese President Xi Jinping made clear his opposition to the deployment of the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system. At Monday’s summit with President Park Geun-hye in Hangzhou, China, on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in the city, Xi expressed opposition to the Thaad deployment by the United States in South Korea. He said that if the Korean government mishandles the issue, it is not only harmful to the regional security in Northeast Asia, but may also raise conflict among countries involved.
Xi’s remarks translate into the fact that our government’s effort to reassure China about the deployment have nearly failed. In other words, Thaad will most likely serve as a major stumbling block to the otherwise prospering Seoul-Beijing relations. It is urgent for our government to manage the estranged ties amid deepening tensions over the missile defense system and cope with increasing nuclear threats from North Korea. The North yesterday fired three ballistic missiles shortly after the summit meeting between Park and Xi. The missiles this time flew over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) to the East Sea.
As President Park stressed to Xi on Monday, the Korean people will first fall victim to the North’s nuclear and missile attacks. To put it differently, the Thaad deployment is for the sake of self defense — to safeguard our public safety and national interests from North Korean nuclear and missile threats. Our government’s basic duty to protect the people and national interest cannot be taken hostage by China’s opposition no matter what.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping surely understands our position. But he straightforwardly raised objection to the deployment because he thinks that Thaad is a matter of strategic balance between the United States and China. President Park adroitly reacted to Xi’s objection by stating that the Thaad battery will not be necessary when and if the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis is resolved. If Beijing had persuaded — and pressured — Pyongyang in a more responsible way from the start, Seoul would not have resorted to the Thaad deployment to protect the nation from North Korean missile attacks.
It is fortunate that both leaders mentioned a need to pursue common interest based on the spirit of seeking the same goal despite some minor differences in their approach. The Seoul-Beijing relations have grown deeper and broader than ever, which is irreversible. If both sides let their difference over the deployment hamper other areas of cooperation down the road, it benefits neither of them.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 6, Page 34