Calm down, China

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Calm down, China

A senior Chinese journalist made an absurd remark during a debate at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, which took place the day after four launchers for the U.S. military’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield were installed in South Korea, completing the battery’s deployment. He said the deployment of the Thaad system was like setting up a surveillance camera at a supermarket — and using it to spy on a woman showering in a neighboring apartment.

The comparison was ridiculous. We have long suffered the North’s nuclear threats and we do not have spare time. The remark demonstrated a superpower’s prejudice about the decision to deploy the Thaad shield while turning a blind eye to the danger of the North’s nuclear threats. In fact, the deployment was a sovereign country’s minimum deterrence against nuclear threats to its survival.

The North Korean nuclear program is a disaster for the entire world. The North’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, with a 10,000-kilometer (6,214-mile) range, can hit most of the U.S. mainland and Europe. That is why the European Union, located about 8,000 kilometers away from the North, is pushing for strong sanctions. Mexico expelled the North’s ambassador and the Philippines cut all trade with the North because it can no longer tolerate Pyongyang’s nuclear brinkmanship.

But China’s state-run media are silent about the nuclear crisis. Instead, they sent broadcasting vans to the Seongju base in the South and aired the latest deployment live. The Global Times cursed the South by saying, “The conservative Koreans have become stupid after eating kimchi; the Thaad system will be a malignant cancer and South Korea will become isolated.”

In other words, China’s stance demonstrates a superpower’s high-handedness. It does not care about our survival and the only thing that matters is the strategic balance with the United States. Chinese President Xi Jinping ignored South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s request to have a phone chat after North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3. South Korean Ambassador to China Kim Jang-soo has long been treated as an invisible man.

The Chinese people criticize American unilateralism whenever they have the chance. “The United States destroyed the Soviet Union and Libya for having different systems, and now it is showing hostility toward China,” they grumble. But China is the superpower that carries out massive economic retaliation for the Thaad deployment. Emart left the Chinese market after 20 years of business and 87 out of 112 Lotte Mart stores shut down. Parts suppliers of Hyundai Motor stopped their production lines and Samsung’s market share declined in China. Korean electric car battery makers such as Samsung SDI, LG Chemical and SK Innovation are suffering China’s abuse.

The separation of economics and politics has been a basic rule for the international community, but Beijing has ignored it. China is showing anachronistic hostility from the Cold War era. South Korea and China are strategic cooperative partners, but the sweet rhetoric has been absent for a long time. How can we trust Xi’s empty promise to lead free trade against U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade protectionism?

As Moon said Friday, the Thaad deployment is the “best measure to stop a war and protect the lives of the people.” If Taiwan builds nuclear arms and threatens China, like the North threatens the South, would China be silent about that? Highly unlikely. China would not be afraid to start a war.

It is not mature to launch reckless economic retaliations for the defensive measure of allowing the deployment of just one Thaad battery. If the government in Beijing suspects that it is aimed at spying on China, it can send people to Seongju to see the truth. South Korea is willing to persuade the U.S. military to resolve China’s skepticism. Now is the time for China to regain its calm and face reality.

South Korea took China’s hands when it lost direction 25 years ago after the Tiananmen Square incident. Although China’s intervention during the Korean War was a critical blow to the South, the South opened up its heart and befriended China.

After the establishment of diplomatic relations, China became the second largest economic superpower after the United States through repeated innovations. It learned Korea’s manufacturing technologies over the past 25 years and Korea became the largest beneficiary of the growing market of China.

Is it fair for China to carelessly bully the South? In order to realize Xi’s proposal of “building a joint community of the human race together,” it must stop harassing innocent Korean companies. Instead, it must cut oil supplies to North Korea and persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons programs. China also knows very well that North Korean nuclear weapons can pose a deadly threat to the country if Pyongyang decides to turn in their direction.

China is a pragmatic country that helped South Korea restore its economy by rejecting its ally’s earnest call for help after the fall of the Soviet Union. Deng Xiaoping met with Kim Il Sung at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in 1991, a year before Beijing normalized relations with Seoul, and warned that “no alliance is forever.”

I try to imagine Kim’s despair as he left Diaoyutai 26 years ago after his nation was betrayed by a “blood ally” due to a lack of power. Korea is a strong economy now. It must say what it needs to say about its survival and security without trying to please China. The moment is fast approaching that South Korea reconsider its old fantasy that its ally for national security is the United States and its partner for economics is China.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 11, Page 35

*The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Ha-kyung
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