N Korean missile test ‘blows hole in China’s plans’ to stop THAAD roll-out
Pyongyang’s missile launch on Sunday will accelerate the roll-out of a US-backed missile defence system in South Korea, disrupting China’s plan to persuade Seoul to delay the deployment, observers said on Monday.
North Korea successfully test-fired a new type of medium- to long-range ballistic missile, which flew about 500km before falling into the Sea of Japan, which the Koreans call the East Sea.
In response, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday that Beijing opposed North Korean missile tests that ran contrary to United Nations resolutions.
“All parties should keep restraint and safeguard regional peace and stability together,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
Threats from North Korea prompted Seoul to agree last year to deploy the US’ Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system.
The system is a combination of a sophisticated radar and interceptor missiles designed to spot and knock out incoming ballistic missiles, but Beijing sees it as a threat on its doorstep.
Beijing was furious at the decision by South Korean President Park Geun-hye and rebuffed Seoul’s attempts to discuss the issue.
But Beijing’s position appeared to soften after Park’s government was rocked by a corruption scandal and Park was suspended from her duties amid impeachment proceedings.
Cui Zhiying, a Korean affairs specialist at Shanghai’s Tongji University, said Sunday’s missile test could speed up the deployment of THAAD.
“This will in turn distance South Korea from China,” Cui said.
Lee Kyu-tae, from South Korea’s Catholic Kwandong University, agreed, saying the test would reduce opposition in South Korea to THAAD and add weight to arguments for the system’s deployment.
China could go a long way to reducing the need for THAAD if it could successfully pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons programme, Lee said.
“But there are no signs that North Korea will abandon its nuclear ambitions, and Sunday’s missile test can undermine objections in South Korea,” Lee said.
“The only choice left for Seoul to protect itself is to deploy THAAD.”
Hwang Jae-ho, a professor of international relations at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said Beijing’s original plan was to wait for more room to move when a new government in Seoul was formed.
Moon Jae-in, a former opposition leader and now a front runner in South Korea’s presidential race, has signalled that he would rethink the deployment decision, which he said should wait until the next administration was in place.
But Hwang said the new government would face immense pressure from those who supported THAAD.