South Korea and China clash over US missile shield, complicating conciliation

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is seen in Seongju, South Korea June 13, 2017. Picture taken June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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SEOUL, Aug 11 (Reuters) – China and South Korea clashed over a U.S. missile shield on Thursday, threatening to undermine the new government’s efforts in Seoul to overcome long-standing security differences.

The disagreement over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system emerged after a seemingly smooth first visit to China by South Korea’s foreign minister this week.

China, claiming THAAD’s powerful radar could scan its airspace, curbed commercial and cultural imports after Seoul announced its deployment in 2016, dealing a blow to relations.

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South Korea’s presidential office said Thursday that the system stationed in the country was a means of self-defense, according to a transcript of a briefing, after Beijing asked Seoul not to deploy additional batteries and limit the use of existing ones.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, seeing the system as key to countering North Korean missiles, has vowed to abandon previous government promises not to increase THAAD deployments, participate in a state-led global missile shield States or to create a trilateral military alliance involving Japan.

During the election campaign, Tory Yoon pledged to buy another THAAD battery, but since taking office in May, his government has focused on what officials call “normalizing” the operation of the existing system, owned and operated by the United States.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, in a meeting on Tuesday, explored ways to reopen denuclearization talks with North Korea and resume cultural exports, such as music and K-pop movies, to China. Read more

A spokesperson for Mr. Wang said on Wednesday that the two men had “agreed to take each other’s legitimate concerns seriously and to continue to handle this matter carefully and properly to ensure that it does not become a stumbling block to the healthy and steady growth of bilateral relations”.

The Chinese spokesperson told a briefing that the deployment of THAAD in South Korea “undermines China’s strategic security interests”.

Park, however, told Wang that Seoul would not abide by the 2017 agreement, called the “Three No’s,” because it is not a formal commitment or agreement, the South Korean ministry said. Korean Foreign Affairs in a statement.

China is also insisting that South Korea abide by “one restriction” – limiting the use of existing THAAD batteries. Seoul has never acknowledged this element, but on Wednesday Wang’s spokesperson stressed that China attaches importance to the “three no’s and one restriction” position.

During Park’s visit to the eastern port city of Qingdao, the Chinese Communist Party-owned Global Times praised Yoon for showing “independent diplomacy and rationality towards China” by not meeting face to face with the Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.

But the newspaper warned that the THAAD issue is “a major hidden danger that cannot be avoided in China-South Korea relations”.

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Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Additional reporting by Soo-hyang Choi in Seoul and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Josh Smith and William Mallard

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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