(ANTIMEDIA) It’s no secret that both U.S. ally South Korea and regional superpower China both have major problems with the U.S. military’s deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system to the Korean Peninsula. Now, it appears this shared distaste could actually be the thing that finally bridges the gap between the two neighboring countries.
From a Reuters report on Friday:
“China wants to put ties with South Korea back on a ‘normal track,’ President Xi Jinping said on Friday, but Beijing also urged Seoul to respect its concerns and resolve tensions over the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system that it opposes.
“Relations between Beijing and Seoul, strained by disagreement over South Korea’s hosting of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, have taken on a more conciliatory tone with the election earlier this month of President Moon Jae-in.”
Xi was speaking in front of reporters at China’s Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The man he was snapping photos and shaking hands with was the new South Korean president’s special envoy, Lee Hae-chan. At a separate meeting Friday, Lee was told by a top Chinese diplomat, Yang Jiechi, that his country “hopes that South Korea can respect China’s major concerns (and) appropriately resolve the THAAD issue.”
The day before, on Thursday, in an article titled “Can South Korea and China patch things up over THAAD?” CNN highlighted Moon’s consistent stance on the anti-missile system’s deployment and reminded readers why recent U.S. actions have ruffled so many regional feathers:
“Throughout the election campaign, Moon called for the deployment of THAAD to be halted and the decision about its future to be taken by the new government and the country’s parliament.
“Instead, Washington and the caretaker government in Seoul sped up the roll-out of the missile system, announcing that it was partially operational a week before Moon was elected.”
The system now operates at nearly full capacity.
CNN points out that China’s President Xi has already called on his country and South Korea to work together toward the “common goal” of a safe Korean Peninsula — something Tong Zhao, an analyst at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, says could hinge on the THAAD issue.
“Both countries want to improve relations,” he told CNN. “But THAAD is still the most critical barrier for the relationship to go forward.”
Some, however, such as the University of Leed’s Adam Cathcart, warn that China, with its unflinchingly anti-THAAD position, has “really backed itself into a corner” because the missile system is now “an explicit red line issue for the Chinese public.”
In other words, China’s stubbornness on the subject could cost it negotiating capital if serious talks on addressing the THAAD situation ever do occur. But even this, some say, may contain a silver lining.
Kim Heung-kyu, a political science professor at South Korea’s Ajou University, says recent warm interactions between China and South Korea suggest that China may actually be looking for a way to wiggle out of its staunch position on THAAD — and that South Korea should “capitalize” on the moment.
“It seems to be apparent that China is seeking to find an exit (from the THAAD stalemate), showing the intention to put an end to the controversy,” he told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. “As China is employing an exit strategy, South Korea should capitalize on this opportunity well and try to produce a breakthrough.”
So even if both sides moved just a little to center on the issue of THAAD, it could mean a lessening of tensions in the region and a new foundation for improving relations. Which does, of course, beg the question: Where exactly does that leave South Korean ally the United States?
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