North Korean nuclear tests

Moon’s victory in South Korean presidential race could open door with China

Compromise over THAAD possible as Beijing and Seoul grapple with North Korea, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 2:37pm

A thaw seems likely between Beijing and Seoul with the election of liberal politician Moon Jae-in as South Korea’s new president as both sides have on Wednesday expressed willingness to reset strained relations amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Despite a row over the deployment of a US defence missile shield in South Korea, diplomatic pundits say a compromise on the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system is still within reach as both Beijing and Seoul are grappling with a more pressing issue: North Korea’s nuclear threats.

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In his inauguration speech a day after his landslide election win, Moon said he would have “serious negotiations” with the United States and China to resolve tensions over THAAD, which Beijing has deemed a security threat.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to Moon, saying China was committed to “properly handling differences and enhancing coordination and cooperation” with Moon.

Pundits said while there was still room for Moon to manoeuvre on THAAD, it was almost impossible to withdraw the anti-missile system given fears Pyongyang may be preparing for a sixth nuclear weapons test and the fact its deployment was deliberately rushed before Moon was elected.

“Moon’s hands are effectively tied as he’s been caught between the strategic rivalry between China and the US. Beijing certainly understands that,” said Huang Jing, of the National University of Singapore. The best Moon could do, according to Huang, was to stall the deployment of THAAD while seeking understanding with Beijing by showing flexibility and backing down from the previous administration’s stance on the issue.

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During his campaign, Moon has said the decision on THAAD was made too quickly and the new administration should have the final say on whether to deploy the system.