China says South Korea THAAD anti-missile system undermines trust

China says that South Korea's decision to deploy the US antimissile defense system to counter threats from North Korea harms the foundation of trust between China and South Korea.

Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters/File
Seoungju residents chant slogans during a protest against the government's decision on deploying a US THAAD anti-missile defense unit in Seongju, South Korea, Thursday. The banner reads 'Desperately oppose deploying THAAD.'

A South Korean agreement with the United States to deploy an antimissile system against its neighbor to the north has upset not just Pyongyang, North Korea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), scheduled to be in place by 2017, has left China distrustful of South Korea.

"The recent move by the South Korean side has harmed the foundation of mutual trust between the two countries," Mr. Wang told South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, according to The Korea Times.

Wang’s rhetoric continues to raise the questions about whether the protection THAAD can provide South Korea outweighs the diplomatic rifts it is sending throughout the region. China, in particular, has decried the system because, it has said, it will destabilize an already fragile region and negatively affect “world peace,” as The Christian Science Monitor’s Jason Thomson reported.

“I certainly don’t believe THAAD or any missile defense is a panacea,” Jonathan Pollack, of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, told Mr. Thomson. “But if it inhibits North Korea, under some extreme circumstances, from using its capabilities, and instills some confidence in the government of South Korea to defend key assets and population areas in a more integrated fashion, then it’ll be money well spent.”

It’s unclear if China agrees. In particular, China is worried that THAAD's advanced radar will be able to track its military capabilities.

"THAAD is most certainly not a simple technical issue, but an out-and-out strategic one," said Wang Sunday, on the sidelines of a conference of foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Vientiane, Laos.

In a later statement, the Chinese foreign ministry said Wang said South Korea should think twice about the deployment of THAAD, and should value improving its ties between it and Beijing.

THAAD is an advanced defense system designed to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. 

The United States, with 28,500 troops in South Korea, has long touted the system as a way to prevent North Korean missile strikes. South Korea, however, has been hesitant to allow the deployment of the system on its soil because it feared China would no longer restrain North Korea's nuclear and other weapons programs.

But several North Korean nuclear and missile tests this year have led South Korea to reconsider.

The system is set to be deployed in Seongju, south of Seoul.   

In an apparent assurance to China, South Korea and the US said they will not share with Japan information they obtain from the radar of the THAAD, reported the South Korea-based Yonhap News Agency.

"Under the trilateral information-sharing agreement with the US and Japan, South Korea is obliged to share the information it gets on North Korea's nuclear and missile tests with Japan through the U.S. But the information detected by the THAAD radar won't be going to Tokyo," a government official told Yonhap.

The strife between Beijing and Seoul comes as North Korea tested three missiles last week over waters to the east of the peninsula, displaying its ability to strike anywhere in Korea. The test was likely a response to South Korea’s agreement to deploy THAAD.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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