Time to calm down

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Time to calm down

China is overstretching its economic muscles to punish Korea for going ahead with a plan to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system. Beijing’s tourism authority commanded travel agencies to stop arranging group and individual trips to South Korea. Pictures of vandalized Korean cars are floating around the web. A Chinese restaurant in Wangjing, a residential neighborhood with many Korean expats, posted a sign saying “South Koreans unwelcome” on its door. The state media is encouraging a boycott of Korean products, bluntly declaring that Lotte Group, which swapped one of its golf courses to provide a home for the Thaad battery, should pay a price. It warns that Samsung and Hyundai could be next.

A retired Chinese general proposed that Seongju, where the Thaad battery will be based, be attacked if the U.S. and China go to war. Is Beijing ready to go into an all-out confrontation with Seoul as well as Washington? Some even compare China’s overbearing attitude to its involvement in the Korean War, when it sent troops to help North Korea fight. Does it have any respect for Seoul at all?

There could be two explanations for Beijing’s overreaction. China maintains a tit-for-tat strategy in foreign affairs. It has been increasing its pressure leading up to the final deployment. Beijing now uses the word “sanction” instead of “response” to Seoul’s Thaad policy.

Another factor is the political calendar in China. On Friday, the annual sessions of China’s top legislative and advisory bodies that discuss and decide national development policies kicked off.

The fifth sessions of the 12th National People’s Congress and 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference are the first assemblies since President Xi Jinping was endorsed as a “core” of the Central Committee of the Communist Party last October. Xi may want to demonstrate strong leadership at home and abroad. But the retaliations now jeopardize the bilateral relationship.

Seoul resents the way Beijing stayed lukewarm on the North Korea nuclear issue. Beijing felt betrayed by Seoul for agreeing to the Thaad deployment without sufficient coordination in advance. Beijing could have taken it personally because Xi’s public opposition to the missile system was ignored. Still, Seoul could not surrender the security of its people out of fear of annoying Beijing

The two nations must calm down. China is inviting international criticism by using its people and economic power to intimidate another country. China must end its childish bullying. Its behavior does not befit its importance on the world stage.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 4, Page 26.
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