Peace forum turns into a Thaad squabble

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Peace forum turns into a Thaad squabble

SEOGWIPO, Jeju - Chinese and Korean policy experts and academics butted heads at a session on China-Korea relations at the 12th Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity in Seogwipo on Wednesday, as the discussion zeroed in on the controversial deployment of the U.S.-led antimissile defense system on the Korean Peninsula.

“The U.S.-Korea decision to deploy the Thaad system in Korea is heightening tension and causing concerns among neighboring countries and China has expressed its grave concern and urged Korea to correct the problem,” said Wang Fan, vice president of China Foreign Affairs University, referring to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. “Korea and China must take appropriate actions in order to ease tensions in the region and we urge the United States to stop the Thaad deployment process.”

Washington and Seoul agreed to deploy the system here last July to defend against threats from North Korea. The deployment has been protested by China and Russia, who say the system’s powerful radar will be used to spy on them.

“We cannot but believe that the United States is targeting China,” said Guo Rui, professor in the administration department at Jilin University. “Thaad has created a rift between Korea and China.”

After the Park Geun-hye administration decided to deploy a Thaad battery in the southern region of the country, Beijing levied unofficial sanctions on Korea.

Korean scholars present at the session were equally frank.

“To be honest, I don’t think China’s response has been completely justified,” said Lee Ji-yong, professor of Asian and Pacific studies at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (Ifans). “In its ongoing rivalry with the United States in the Asia region, China has been forcing its opinions and perspectives onto neighboring countries. It talks of peaceful development and cooperation in East Asia, but its actions speak a different language.”

Lee added, “If China can show its words in action, it will really start the two countries on a path of accelerated and cordial relations for the next 25 years.”

Although the session was titled “Korea-China Relations: Achievements, Challenges and New Proposals,” the discussions did not veer from Thaad much.

“This session is meant to examine 25 years of diplomatic ties between China and Korea,” said Chung Sang-ki, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the Ifans, who moderated the session. “Discussing Thaad will not lead to a conclusion today.”

In a following session on nongovernmental cooperation between Korea and Japan, experts suggested more cooperation between the two countries on a multilateral level than on bilateral grounds.

“Cultural exchanges between Japan and Korea are more feasible on a multilateral platform, which will enhance peace in the Northeast Asia region,” said Sun Seung-hye, director of Cultural Exchange Cooperation Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who had served as a curator at National Museum of Korea and other museums in the United States and Japan. “The two countries must make use of Korean interest in Japanese animation and Japanese interest in Korean dramas.”

Earlier this year, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida claimed Dokdo is Japan’s inherent territory, drawing strong protest from Seoul. Seoul says there is no dispute over Dokdo, a group of islets in Ulleung County, North Gyeongsang, either in terms of history, geography or international law.

Tokyo also recently raised an objection with the United Nations human rights watchdog after its Committee against Torture recently called for the revision of the 2015 settlement between Korea and Japan to resolve the wartime sexual slavery issue because, the committee said, the agreement failed to properly redress victims, euphemistically referred to as comfort women.

“I feel we have only scratched the surface of how civil society matters in Korea-Japan relations,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University. “I heard from panelists about Japanese historical revisionism and rightward movement in Japanese society, but we’ve just lived through a period in Korea where nongovernmental organizations wanted a Japanese journalist prosecuted for libel for writing about something that many Koreans ultimately wanted to include in the president’s impeachment. There are NGOs here that are trying to sink the December 2015 Korea-Japan agreement and went after a Korean professor for writing a book about different experiences among ‘comfort women’ survivors. All this when South Korea was on the verge of making many of its students read from a state-sponsored history textbook.”

He added, “I think we have to reflect a bit more about how much trouble Korea is having respecting and understanding its own history and how that is making Korea-Japan relations more difficult. This makes the role of nongovernmental organizations and civil society all the more important in improving relations between the two partners.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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