China faces ‘diplomatic dilemma’ in Korean peninsula as Seoul deploys US anti-missile defence system
Plans by South Korea to deploy a powerful US anti-missile system in the Korean peninsula will create a diplomatic dilemma for China – especially when it is faced with an increasingly bellicose North Korea, experts say.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi – who spent a lot of time at the weekend’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign minister’s forum in Laos trying to limit the damage to Beijing over the international tribunal ruling on South China Sea – held bilateral meetings on the sidelines with his counterparts from both North Korea and South Korea.
Wang reportedly told his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, that the deployment was not simply a technical issue but also a strategic matter, and would have a negative impact on the situation in the peninsular, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement published on its website.
The move would also affect regional stability and relations between Beijing and Seoul, Wang was reported as saying.
Wang also met North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, and assured him that Beijing and Pyongyang remained traditional friends and that China was committed to resolving problems in the Korean peninsula through discussions.
South Korea and the United States announced this month that they would deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile system – a move strong opposed by China, which has deep security concerns that information about its military facilities could be easily penetrated by the weaponry’s radar system.
However, Seoul and Washington have said the deployment is not an attempt to unsettle Beijing, but simply to defend South Korea from the increasing threats from Pyongyang.
It is widely believed that the missile deployment will lead China to review its policies towards both North and South Korea.
There are concerns that Beijing’s political relations with Seoul could veer from cordial to cold – especially after China’s Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Park Geun-hye failed to interact in public at this month’s Asia-Europe Meeting in Mongolia.
Experts in South Korea and China have predicted that Beijing will not impose any major economic sanctions on Seoul because that would harm both nations’ economies – especially at a time when the global economy growth is slowing.
However, Sun Xingjie, a Korean affairs expert at Jilin University, said that for Beijing, the missile deployment had “touched the bottom line” in terms of the geopolitical balance in the peninsula.
It meant that “China would want to hurt South Korea through some economic measures – for example when it comes to the implementation of a free trade agreement between China and South Korea”, Sun said.
With regard to Beijing’s relations with North Korea, the experts said that the planned missile deployment would not necessarily push Beijing closer to Pyongyang.
Woo Jung-yeop, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said that if there were stronger ties between China and North Korea it would further bolster defence alliances between the US, South Korea and Japan – something that China certainly did not want to happen.
As China and South Korea still shared some common ground, especially with regard to issues concerning North Korea, both powers still needed to talk, Woo said.
“They will find a moment and the seemingly not-so-cordial relations between the two countries will end soon,” Woo said, adding that it would be a “face-saving event”.
Evans Revere, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in the US, said: “Continued pressure and threats from China will only arouse suspicions in [South Korea] and undermine stability in the region.
“Beijing would be wise to review carefully its approach to the two Koreas and consider which of the two Koreas is more prepared to be a friendly, cooperative neighbour and a force for stability.”