The conservative opposition party candidate seeking to replace South Korean President Moon Jae-in at next year’s election has kept open the possibility of further deployments of an American missile system that China sees as a threat. The People Power Party’s Yoon Suk-yeol, a former top prosecutor, said it would be up to Seoul to decide “how much we bolster missile defence systems including Thaad and how deeply we coordinate with the United States and Japan [for defence]”. “These issues should be decided upon in accordance with our security situations,” he said. Yoon was referring to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system that arrived in the country in 2017 to defend the South from an attack by North Korea . China said the system’s radar could be used by the US to spy on it, threatening its security, and unleashed a slew of retaliatory measures that hit South Korea’s trade and tourism sectors. The dispute went on for a year before Moon and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to “normalise exchanges”. Yoon, who is the front runner among presidential candidates according to polls – though pundits caution that support could fluctuate as the March 9 election nears – stressed that Thaad was meant to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats . “It is regrettable that it is misunderstood as a provocative act to China,” he added. Yoon’s remarks are the clearest indication yet that the resurgent conservative party – which lost power in 2017 when former leader Park Geun-hye was removed from office – will upend Moon’s precarious balancing act between the country’s traditional ally, the US, and its largest trade partner, China, amid the mounting rivalry between the two superpowers . ‘Dangerous’ for South Korea to add Japan to defence alliance: presidential hopeful Choi Kang, vice-president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the conservatives could be bad news for both China and North Korea as they preferred a tougher stance towards both countries. “Naturally, China wouldn’t be much excited to see Yoon triumph over Lee,” he said, in a reference to Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of Moon’s Democratic Party. Still, Yoon in his remarks on Friday pledged to open a “new era of cooperation” with China based on mutual respect and push for regular high-level strategic talks if elected. Yoon, who was speaking to foreign correspondents, also said he was opposed to a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean war, as suggested by Moon to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. Moon has consistently pushed for inter-Korean engagement as the first step to a broader discussion with the US on denuclearisation, and eventual reunification. Efforts to declare an end to the war – which technically continues as the fighting resulted in an armistice rather than a peace treaty – appear to be gathering steam, with US and South Korean officials working on the wording of such a declaration and North Korea signalling conditional interest. But Yoon said such a gesture could send the wrong signal to Pyongyang at a time when it was continuing to build its nuclear and missile capabilities. As Moon cannot run again for election, his Democratic Party is battling to stay in power through Lee, the former governor of the country’s most populous Gyeonggi province. Lee on Monday said he was not in favour of Japan joining the US and South Korea in a three-way military alliance, and that he opposed any further deployment of Thaad.