Toadying in BeijingAll diplomatic niceties have been cut off between Seoul and Beijing since our government’s decision last July to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile system to defend against incoming North Korean missiles. Despite our ambassador in Beijing’s request for a meeting to listen to the Chinese government’s position on the issue, Beijing flatly refused to agree.
But Beijing welcomed a visit by seven lawmakers from the opposition Minjoo Party of Korea. They met with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday and are scheduled to meet other senior Chinese officials from the Ministry of Commerce and the National People’s Congress. Beijing welcomes their visit because it believes the opposition party from South Korea shares the view of the Chinese government on the sensitive issue — and disagrees with the government in Seoul.
Our lawmakers’ visit raises deep concerns. Despite disagreements over the Thaad deployment, our government made the deployment decision because of a strong need to protect ourselves from increasingly provocative threats from North Korea. On the security front, of course, there cannot be divisions between ruling and opposition parties.
China has been building pressure on South Korea as retaliation for its decision to deploy Thaad. Beijing is now systematically discouraging Chinese tourists from visiting South Korea. It has kicked off an investigation of 150 outlets of Lotte Group in China, and continues to delay certification of Samsung and LG’s electric car batteries, to name a few measures. But China is only bent on retaliating against South Korea without presenting any alternatives to lessen our growing security concerns.
The opposition lawmakers went to Beijing to call for a suspension of the retaliations and to deliver their party’s presidential hopeful’s position that the deployment decision should be made by the next government. However, that will most likely send the wrong message to China. Our government made the decision because of our security needs, not China’s. Opposition lawmakers visiting Beijing can also be attacked for toadyism.
China can take advantage of their visit to deliver Beijing’s steadfast opposition to the deployment. Their visit can also help China to believe that economic leverage is the most effective tool in achieving its diplomatic goals. Repetition of those signals can easily encourage China to be even more arrogant down the road.
The lawmakers can hardly avoid criticism that they were imprudent. They made a big mistake.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 5, Page 30