CHINA TOPIX

Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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China Protests US-South Korea THAAD Plans Following Pyongyang's Rocket Launch

Missile killer

(Photo : US Army) Launch of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor.

Pyongyang could not have planned a scenario better calculated to drive a wedge deeper between Beijing and the US and its allies when it launched its space rocket on the eve of the Lunar New Year.

Vice Minister Liu Zhenmin of the Chinese foreign ministry summoned South Korean Ambassador Kim Jang-Soo on Sunday to protest Seoul's decision to engage the US in talks to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems in the Korean Peninsula.

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South Korea and the US earlier announced that they would begin talks on the possibility of deploying THAAD batteries within South Korean borders in response to North Korea's rocket launch.

Consistent and Clear

"In response to the increasing North Korean threat, ROK and the US will officially discuss deploying THAAD to US forces in Korea to improve its missile defense posture," Yoo Jeh-seung, who heads defense planning at South Korea's defense ministry, told the press after the launch of the North Korean rocket.

THAAD is a US-manufactured anti-missile defense system which can intercept and destroy short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles in flight. The system uses sophisticated radars, sensors and other classified technology to track down its targets.

The Chinese government has voiced its dismay over the planned discussions, saying the deployment of the American defensive weapon in South Korea would only aggravate an already fraught situation.

"China holds a consistent and clear position on anti-missile issues," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying when asked to comment on the talks.  "No country shall undermine other countries' security interests while pursuing its own."

The Diplomat reports that the deployment of THAAD would imply that South Korea has agreed to become part of the US Missile Defense Agency's ballistic missile defense grid.  This could undercut China's defensive posture, analysts say, and boost America's intelligence and strike capabilities over the Chinese mainland.

"Moving ahead with the deployment of anti-missile systems in the region will further raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula," said Hua.  "It will not help maintain regional peace and stability, nor will it lead to a proper settlement of the current situation."

Media Impact

The US, Japan and South Korea consider the North Korean space program a pretext for the development of technologies that could be used to build intercontinental ballistic missiles. They warned that a rocket launch so soon after a nuclear test would be regarded as a serious provocation. 

While analysts agree that Kim Jong Un's launch of the rocket is an open display of defiance against the US and its allies, many also see in it a clear demonstration of contempt for China.    

After sending home Wu Dawei -- one of Beijing's most experienced diplomats-- empty-handed from a mission to dissuade North Korea from creating more tension in the region, Kim ordered the launch the contentious rocket a day earlier than expected, during one of China's most cherished holidays. 

The Chinese foreign ministry expressed "regret" hours after the North Korean launch, but has insisted on calm and cautious action on the part of the US, Japan and South Korea.  This drew razor-sharp criticism -- at times even outright mockery -- from Chinese users of the social media site, Weibo. 

Despite its frustration with Kim, however, analysts say Beijing is likely to put up with the brash young dictator's behavior. 

"China is afraid that more sanctions will reduce China's influence in North Korea," Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, told the New York Times, adding that Beijing does not want to turn its intractable ally into a dangerous enemy.

South Korean intelligence has suggested that Pyongyang had likely timed the launch to coincide with the Chinese Lunar New Year and the US NFL Super Bowl in order to maximize media impact.

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