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Haste makes waste

Posted November. 13, 2017 07:26,   

Updated November. 13, 2017 08:41


The leaders of South Korea and China agreed to resolve conflicts over the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system and normalize Korea-China exchanges at a summit held on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. However, President Xi called for a “responsible attitude” of South Korea on the THAAD issue, to which President Moon Jae-in replied that the missile system does not target China. China is still observing Seoul’s wish to recover the bilateral relationship, asking for withdrawal of THAAD.

This summit is positive in the sense that the two countries started to look at ways to resolve conflicts and recover the relationship based on the joint agreement announced on October 31. Nevertheless, the briefings by the two countries after the summit have different angles. Unlike the projections that THAAD will not be an issue, the Chinese president urged the South Korea government to take a “responsible attitude on THAAD that stands the test of history.” This means THAAD that has been already deployed was not in line with China’s understanding, and he is determined to not allow additional deployment of THAAD, a missile defense system and alliance among South Korea, the United States and Japan.

To this, Moon said, “I fully understand China’s concerns. Korea does not have any intention to harm China’s strategic security.” The summit was about reconfirm‎ing the joint agreement on October 31 according to the briefing, but it seemed that Moon was explaining the agreement all over again. Moreover, Moon did not raise an issue of China’s THAAD retaliation. Moon’s visit to China next month has been agreed upon, but Xi’s return visit and attendance in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics were not ever discussed. South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae announced, “Moon and Xi have also agreed to quickly normalize bilateral exchanges,” but this was not included in the briefing for China. The agreement is unstable at best.

The THAAD 1 agreement and the latest summit will nourish the anticipation on recovery of Korea-China relations. The commercial of a Singles Day discount event featuring Korean actress Jeon Ji-hyun has also garnered much attention, as it could be interpreted as a lift of THAAD retaliation. However, there is no sign of the Chinese government permitting visas for Chinese group tourists or lifting the government ban on Hallyu, or the Korean wave. Too much expectation leads to disappointment. China is still pressing South Korea, saying that it will wait and see the next move of South Korea.

Seoul’s “three Nos principle” has provoked controversy in Korea that it could be equivalent to abandoning sovereignty and national security, for which the U.S. government has expressed its concerns. The United States suggested a Korea-U.S.-Japan joint drill with three aircraft carriers, but decided to conduct military exercises with Korea and Japan separately due to Korea’s opposition. Some point out that this is a decision made in conscious of China. It is certainly important to improve Korea-China relations, but it would be foolish to undermine national security because of China. The tension needs to be resolved harmoniously with other countries including the United States. Wise decisions are pivotal in times of difficulties.