Beijing freezes military ties with Seoul

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Beijing freezes military ties with Seoul

At least seven joint military events between Korea and China have been cancelled since Seoul agreed to deploy a U.S. antimissile defense system on the peninsula, according to a government insider.

“All official interactions between the Korean and Chinese militaries came to a halt in the latter half of last year,” said an insider in the Korean government.

“This is despite the two countries signing an agreement in a ministerial meeting in 2011 to step up bilateral military cooperation, as well as an agreement at the end of 2015 to establish a hotline between the defense ministers.”

The decision by the Korean and U.S. governments to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system on the peninsula last July was protested by China, which believes the system could be used by the U.S. to spy on it. It is now levying unofficial sanctions on Korea, including cuts in tours to Korea by Chinese travel agencies and cancellations of Korean entertainment acts’ work in China.

Since July, at least seven military events between the two countries have been cancelled.

“A Chinese athletic corps and a group of trainees from a national defense college in China were supposed to visit Korea in July but the visits were cancelled,” said another government insider. “And Beijing skipped the Seoul Defense Dialogue in September, too.”

The Seoul Defense Dialogue was attended by senior military officers from 33 countries, including the United States, Russia and Japan.

“Even visits by Korean military representatives to China were barred,” the insider added. “In September, a group of trainees from the Korea National Defense University was barred from visiting a unit of the Chinese military.”

A visit by a representative group from a marine and air force academy in China was also cancelled in September.

In November, representatives from Korea were barred from participating in the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, where trade talks and airshows have been held in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, since 1996.

And last month, a group of Korean trainees from the Republic of Korea Naval Academy was prevented from entering a port in Qingdao, and had to shorten a navigating exercise.

A visit by Defense Minister Han Min-koo to China, long expected to take place in 2016, never came about. Additionally, when North Korea conducted its fifth missile test in September last year, no joint military discussion between Seoul and Beijing took place.

Some experts are concerned that such unofficial sanctions by China may interrupt negotiations on a Korea-China FTA.

Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo are set to hold their 11th trilateral discussion on a trilateral FTA today in Beijing. The FTA conference in Beijing will last a week, and a Beijing-Seoul joint committee on an FTA is also scheduled to hold its first meeting Friday.

“The discussion over the FTA will be affected by what’s going on politically and diplomatically between the two countries,” said Shim Sang-ryul, a professor of international trade at Kwangwoon University in Seoul. “It is hard to expect a sudden change in Beijing’s approach to Thaad.”

“Instead of looking to make progress in the upcoming FTA discussions, Korea must come up with negotiation strategies for dealing with China.”

“China’s stance on Thaad is too strong for the Korean and U.S. governments to try to change that through dialogue,” said Jang Kwang-il, professor of national defense and science at Dongyang University in North Gyeongsang, who was a policy director at the Ministry of National Defense. “Korea must come up with points to cooperate [with China] but also maintain its own stance on Thaad.”

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