Deployment of additional THAAD launchers causes further rifts in northeast Asia

Posted on : 2017-09-08 15:56 KST Modified on : 2017-09-08 15:56 KST
Moon administration risks alienating Moscow and Beijing at crucial time in NK nuclear crisis
USFK vehicles containing equipment for the THAAD missile defense system await orders for installation at the base in Seongju County
USFK vehicles containing equipment for the THAAD missile defense system await orders for installation at the base in Seongju County

By pushing ahead with the deployment of four more THAAD launchers in the early morning of Sept. 7, the South Korean government has made it even less likely that China and Russia, which have actual leverage over North Korea, will cooperate with sanctions on the North. China and Russia are protesting vociferously over the deployment of THAAD with American forces in Korea, since they see the THAAD interceptors as being part of the US’s missile defense network. Rather than expecting cooperation from the two countries, South Korea may have to deal with retaliation from them, experts warn.

“We again urge the US and the ROK to value the security interests and concerns of China and other regional countries and immediately stop the relevant deployment and remove the [THAAD] equipment. The Chinese side has lodged stern protestations with the ROK regarding this issue,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang during the regular press briefing on Sept. 7.

The day before, the Chinese government reportedly summoned South Korean Ambassador to China Kim Jang-soo and lodged an official complaint. On Sept. 7, Chinese newspaper the Global Times printed an editorial titled “After deploying THAAD, South Korea needs to answer two questions.” The eponymous questions were “Is the safety that South Korea has gained worth more than the safety that China and Russia have lost?” and “If both South Korea and the US have been made safer by South Korea’s deployment of THAAD, is it okay for China and Russia to cancel their sanctions against North Korea and to resume normal business?”

While the international community is gradually toughening its sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations, UN resolutions are unlikely to be effective without independent and aggressive pressure and sanctions by China and Russia, the countries upon which North Korea actually depends. While South Korean President Moon Jae-in plans to call on the UN Security Council to pass a sanctions resolution against the North that includes cutting off its supply of crude oil following its sixth nuclear test, such a resolution cannot be passed without the cooperation of China and Russia, both of which are permanent members of the UN Security Council.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin adopted a critical stance toward South Korean and US calls for cooperation during his summit with Moon the day before. “The North Korean nuclear issue cannot be resolved through pressure and sanctions alone,” Putin said. “The specific plan [for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue] is contained in the roadmap for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue offered in July by Russia and China.”

Experts believed that the THAAD deployment will have a negative influence on communication between South Korea and Russia and between South Korea and China in regard to the North Korean nuclear issue. Since China regards the THAAD deployment on the Korean Peninsula as part of an American strategy of encirclement, South Korea and China’s relations are very likely to deteriorate even further.

“THAAD has caused harm to mutual trust between China and South Korea, and it will also have some degree of influence on securing valid cooperation on the North Korean [nuclear] issue. THAAD is like a nail that has been hammered into China-South Korea relations, and the blood and pain will continue until the two countries make an effort to remove that nail,” said Wang Dong, a professor at Peking University, during a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh.

“Now that we’ve moved closer to the US missile defense network, the Korean Peninsula is ultimately regressing to a standoff between South Korea, the US and Japan on one side and North Korea, China and Russia on the other,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

Some experts also think that China will intensify its retaliation for the THAAD deployment. “We’ve entered a situation where we’ll be lucky not to face more retaliation, let alone secure cooperation on the North Korean issue. Economic retaliation will probably get worse, and for the time being it will be hard to manage the North Korean nuclear program, let alone to resolve it,” said Kim Jong-dae, a lawmaker with the Justice Party.

Following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, Moon has spoken on the phone with the leaders of major countries to discuss ways to resolve the North Korean nuclear program, but thus far he hasn’t been able to arrange a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

By Choi Hye-jeong, staff reporter, and Kim Oi-hyun, Beijing correspondent

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