Talks to Deploy US Missile Defense System in South Korea may Force China to Compromise on Sanctions Against Pyongyang: Experts
North Korea's defiant launch of a space rocket last Sunday has dramatically altered the security situation in East Asia, according to experts, and could force China to veer toward a compromise on the US-proposed sanctions against its impoverished traditional ally.
With tensions continuing to build throughout East Asia and a sharp division between the US and China becoming increasingly evident, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) met on Monday to discuss a response to Kim Jong Un's latest act of defiance.
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Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, has said new UNSC sanctions should surpass Kim's expectations, and a resolution should be passed as soon as possible.
Beijing had previously challenged the rationale behind the embargoes proposed by the United States and its allies against North Korea, arguing more hard-line punitive measures against Pyongyang would only serve to aggravate an already taut situation.
But Sunday's rocket launch has accomplished what North Korea's last nuclear test could not: Seoul has now opened its doors to the possibility of allowing the US to position Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems within South Korea's borders.
"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.
Analysts have said the deployment of the powerful US anti-missile system in South Korea could undermine China's defensive posture and boost America's intelligence and strike capabilities over the Chinese mainland.
"Reinitiated talks of US-ROK THAAD deployment may naturally begin to edge China towards the negotiating table, where China might request a cessation of missile defense talks in exchange for cooperation on UN sanctions against North Korea," Ian Armstrong, a policy researcher at Wikistrat, said in a report for Global Risk Insights (GRI).
China's President Xi Jinping has been reluctant to agree to tougher sanctions against the North out of a concern that more forceful UNSC retaliatory action may cause the rogue nation to collapse altogether, or worse, turn against its neighbor and former ally.
However, experts say the possibility of having THAAD batteries on the Korean Peninsula might just outweigh these concerns, and compel China to consider a more flexible stance on the Washington- backed sanctions.
"Even if the prospect of THAAD systems coming to Seoul does not create this effect, Washington might opt to utilize it in bringing China into line with the rest of the Security Council," Armstrong reports.
Ken Gause, a senior analyst for North Korea at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) in Washington, believes the recent North Korean rocket launch is likely to increase pressure on China to approve at least some new sanctions against Pyongyang.
"Beijing will most likely go along with sanctions, but soften the blow," said Gause. "China won't take any actions that could undermine stability in North Korea," he added.
China's UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi appears to give a measure of credence to Gause's view, saying that -- rather than crippling North Korea -- any new UNSC sanctions against Pyongyang should be aimed at easing tensions and advancing the denuclearization of the Peninsula.
"I expect quicker action to arrive at a UN Security Council resolution compared to the previous stonewalling and paralysis that has characterized exchanges at the UN Security Council up to now," Scott Snyder, a senior analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, told South Korea's Yonhap news agency.