Minjoo trip to China over Thaad stirs debateA planned trip to China by opposition lawmakers in order to discuss the placement of a controversial U.S. anti-missile system in Korea faced fierce attack by the ruling party on Friday.
Six first-term lawmakers of the Minjoo Party of Korea will leave for China on Monday to listen to the neighboring superpower’s protests regarding Korea’s recent decision to allow the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system. Beijing claimed that it will severely infringe upon its strategic security in the region and vowed retaliations. After the travel plan was made public, the ruling Saenuri Party demanded that the lawmakers cancel the plan.
“The Minjoo Party must immediately abort this humiliating trip to China,” Rep. Chung Jin-suk, floor leader of the Saenuri Party, said Friday. “Flunkeyism [toward China] will hurt the Korea-U.S. military alliance and Korea’s national pride.”
Chung added that it makes no sense for the opposition lawmakers to consult with Chinese authorities on the Thaad deployment, which was decided by Seoul and Washington.
Rep. Kim Young-woo, head of the National Assembly’s Defense Committee, condemned the Minjoo lawmakers’ plan. “There was no incident in our history so reckless as lawmakers planning a trip to a neighboring country to listen to its protest about our government’s decision,” Kim said. “The trip, if takes place, will be a victory of Sinocentric diplomacy and a humiliation for Korea’s diplomacy and politics.”
The opposition People’s Party, which formally opposed the Park Geun-hye administration’s decision to allow the Thaad deployment, also tried to dissuade Minjoo lawmakers. “Instead of going to China, they should unite their opinions inside the party to pressure the government to recant its decision,” said Rep. Kim Song-sik, chief policymaker.
Experts also showed concern. “It will send the wrong signal to Beijing that Korea’s attitude can change if it adds more pressure,” said political science professor Namkoong Young of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
Rep. Sohn Hye-won, one of the six Minjoo lawmakers who will travel to China, posted a statement of defense on her Facebook. “We are going to Beijing for three days with our own money to learn about China’s sentiments regarding Thaad,” she said. She said the group includes Rep. Kim Young-ho, who obtained a doctoral degree from Peking University, and they will use Kim’s network in China to gather new information and search for a way to calm China’s anger. “If it were a normal country, we [would] have been encouraged. We aren’t going there to sell the country to China.”
The lawmakers’ trip is planned at a sensitive time as tensions have snowballed between Korea and China over the past weeks. The Chinese Embassy in Seoul has officially disallowed a local travel agency from issuing invitation letters to Korean commercial visa seekers earlier this month, making the visa process more difficult. The move was considered retribution for the Thaad deployment. Performances by Korean celebrities planned for China were canceled one after another on Thursday. The People’s Daily, a mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, warned in its editorial on Thursday that Korea and the United States must pay the consequences if they ignore China and Russia’s protests and deploy Thaad.
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said Friday that the government is paying a close attention to China’s responses. During a luncheon with reporters, Yun said the government will make efforts to smoothly overcome any possible retribution without acting sensitively.
“Through various opportunities in the future,” he said, “we will more clearly explain our position and seek China’s understanding.”
The United States is also paying attention to the worsening tension between Korea and China. Foreign affairs advisors to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, met with Korean lawmakers on Wednesday to learn about the situation. Among the U.S. visitors were Michael Schiffer, senior advisor and counselor on the Democratic Staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and they met with Rep. Shim Jae-kwon of the Minjoo Party, chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign and Unification Committee, Rep. Lee Tae-kyu of the People’s Party and Rep. Kim Jong-dae of the Justice Party.
“They wanted to know whether there is any anti-American sentiment over the Thaad deployment,” Kim said. “They also asked questions about Korea-China relations.”
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