U.S. is ‘pleased’ Korea and China back on track

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U.S. is ‘pleased’ Korea and China back on track

The U.S. State Department said it is “pleased” Seoul and Beijing have agreed to take the first steps to improve relations after a yearlong standoff over the deployment of a U.S.-led antimissile battery to Korea.

“We certainly welcome that China and the Republic of Korea would have a closer relationship,” said Heather Nauert, spokeswoman of the State Department, in a briefing Tuesday. “We tend to think that that is a good thing for the region and especially the regional instability and the worldwide instability that [North Korea] poses.”

But Nauert added that nothing has changed about the U.S. position on the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery in Korea, calling it “an alliance decision on the part of the U.S. and the Republic of Korea, something that we came to together.”

She reiterated that Thaad is “a defensive mechanism; it’s not something that’s offensive,” and that Washington’s priority is to keep U.S. citizens and its allies safe.

Nauert added that China “is coming even closer to recognizing that North Korea is a thorn in its side.”

Relations between Seoul and Beijing became strained after the decision to deploy the U.S.-led Thaad antimissile system to Korea in July 2016, and China lashed out by taking economic retaliatory measures that have targeted the entertainment and tourism industries and also taken a toll on Korean companies doing business there.

On Tuesday, Seoul and Beijing found a way to mend frayed ties through negotiations between senior Foreign Ministry officials and called for exchanges and cooperation in all areas to get “back on a normal development track.”

The two sides also agreed that resolving the Thaad issue is “the precondition to restore bilateral relations” and that it must be dealt with politically.

The Moon administration further assuaged China’s concern in three security issues, conveying it is not seeking to join a U.S.-led missile defense regime in the region, it does not plan on additional deployment of Thaad batteries and it will not enter a trilateral military alliance with the United States and Japan.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday through a commentary piece, “China attaches importance to its relations with South Korea and their booming ties over the past few years have brought tangible benefits to the two peoples.”

It went on to say that “what’s past is past,” but that the lesson learned is that the two countries should honor the agreements made and prevent a similar scenario from recurring and keep bilateral relations “on track.”

Global Times similarly reported Tuesday that China’s CYTS Tours Holding Company said that its company’s travel services to South Korea are expected to resume as early as February, though tourism levels may not reach its previous levels.

It also quoted experts as pointing to South Korean diplomats having shown “sincerity” even at the risk of irking the United States.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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