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ROK should say no to missile defense system

By Wang Junsheng | China Daily | Updated: 2016-01-26 08:09

Republic of Korea President Park Geun-hye announced recently that her government will consider the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, an advanced US anti-ballistic missile defense system, in the ROK.

Park's comment came after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea early this month carried out its fourth nuclear test since 2006, giving rise to speculation about the THAAD missile defense system's deployment, which has the potential to readjust the regional strategic structure and trigger an arms race in East Asia.

Unlike the ROK's previous ambiguous "Three Nos" policy - No Request, No Consultation, No Decision - Seoul's more favorable stance toward the US defense system is becoming clear, so too is Washington's strategic ambition.

The THAAD system, if deployed in the ROK, will obviously have a negative impact on regional security. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has reiterated Beijing's stance that a country should consider other countries' safety and interests as well as the peace and stability of the whole region when seeking its own safety.

Strategically, the possible deployment of the THAAD system in the ROK would further worsen the peninsula situation, fueling the arms race between the ROK and the DPRK and leaving less room for China's neighborhood policy.

As Japan also showed interest in introducing the THAAD system last month, the ROK, and Japan could witness substantial progress in their military alliance with the US, which might even incubate a sort of "Asian NATO", if both Tokyo and Seoul decided to deploy the US system on their soil.

In that case, China would likely face an increasing number of challenges with Japan being empowered to impose stricter containment on it. More importantly, Seoul, which benefits a lot from the trade and investment exchanges with Beijing, as well as from their shared history and cultures, will set an abominable precedent for bilateral relations in the region, if it eventually helps the US to contain China.

As for its national security concerns, Seoul is only 40 kilometers away from the inter-Korean land border, and thus has little reason to resort to the advanced THAAD system, as Pyongyang is unlikely to fire long-range missiles should it seek to attack the south. On the contrary, accommodating the US defense system will only deal a heavy blow to the China-ROK ties and the regional stability and peace.

In other words, deploying the anti-missile system on the peninsula would mainly serve the interests of the US, which wants to generate more deterrent effects on both China and Russia, drive a wedge between Beijing and Seoul, and expedite its trilateral military coordination with Japan and the ROK.

Therefore, Beijing should seek to persuade the ROK not to allow the deployment of the missile system on its soil, enhance its partnership with Seoul, and engage in constructive dialogue with Washington.

The author is an associate researcher at the National Institute of International Strategy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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