It seems that the official negotiations between Washington and Seoul regarding the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on the Korean Peninsula, which picked up a high speed after North Korea’s recent nuclear provocation, has caused Beijing to turn to be in favor of stricter sanctions on Pyongyang in the framework of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
However, the foreign ministerial meeting that took place in Washington D.C. on February 23 and the remarks of the Chinese ambassador to South Korea on the previous day are reflecting well the entangled but practical interests of the United States, South Korea and China surrounding the THAAD issue. During the press conference after the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the discussions regarding the deployment of the THAAD system against North Korea’s threat would go on in the interest of self-defense irrespective of the opposition from China. Still, he added that the U.S. government is not in a hurry at all and the deployment would be unnecessary if the goal of denuclearization can be attained without it.
His remarks imply that Washington is willing to control the pace of the deployment if China agrees to take part in comprehensive and powerful UNSC sanctions on the North. Accordingly, the postponement of the conclusion of an agreement between Seoul and Washington for the organization of a working-level group regarding the THAAD issue, which was scheduled to be made, has to do with this as well. Instead, China’s warning relating to the THAAD system targeted the South on that day, when Chinese Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Qiu Guohong mentioned that the bilateral relations between Korea and China could collapse in an instant.
While China’s pressure on South Korea is regarded as an attempt to deter the expansion of the US missile defense system, there is also a possibility that the U.S. may put the THAAD issue on the table for its negotiations with China by, for example, not deploying the system on the Korean Peninsula in return for China’s withdrawal of its missiles from the South China Sea. In this case, South Korea’s national security is put on the back burner. With regard to this matter, the South Korean government said that the cancellation of the deployment will not happen under any circumstances as far as the North Korean nuclear threat remains.
With the national interests of Seoul, Washington and Beijing entangled, we are afraid the deployment of the defense system might be turning into an agenda for the leverage of the U.S. against China rather than a tool for the national security. The South Korean government would be well advised to come up with more strategic national security goals and action plans while looking closely into this transformation.