South Korea, China clash over U.S. missile shield, complicating conciliation

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is seen in Seongju, South Korea, June 13, 2017. Picture taken on 13 June 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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SEOUL, Aug 11 (Reuters) – China and South Korea clashed on Thursday over a U.S. missile defense shield, threatening to undermine efforts by the new government in Seoul to overcome long-standing security differences.

Disagreements over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system came to light this week after the South Korean foreign minister’s first visit to China.

China, which claims THAAD’s powerful radar can penetrate its airspace, curbed trade and cultural imports after Seoul announced its deployment in 2016, dealing a blow to relations.

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South Korea’s presidential office said Thursday that the system deployed in the country is a self-defense tool, according to a briefing transcript, after Beijing demanded that Seoul not deploy additional batteries and limit existing use.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, considering the system vital to countering North Korea’s missiles, has pledged to abandon previous administration promises not to expand THAAD deployment, participate in the US-led Global Missile Shield or form a trilateral military alliance that includes Japan. .

On the campaign trail, the conservative Yun pledged to buy another THAAD battery, but since taking office in May, his government has focused on “normalizing” the operation of the current, US-owned and operated system.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, met on Tuesday to explore ways to restart denuclearization talks with North Korea and resume cultural exports to China, such as K-pop music and movies. Read on

“The two have agreed to take each other’s legitimate concerns seriously and continue to handle the issue prudently and properly manage it to ensure it does not derail the sound and steady growth of bilateral relations,” Wang’s spokesman said on Wednesday.

A Chinese spokesman said the THAAD deployment in South Korea “undermines China’s strategic security interests”.

Park, however, told Wang that Seoul would not abide by the 2017 agreement, known as the “Three Knows,” because it was not a formal pledge or agreement, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

China also insisted that South Korea observe “one restriction” – limiting the use of existing THAAD batteries. Seoul has never acknowledged that element, but Wang’s spokesman on Wednesday emphasized that China values ​​the “three numbers and one sanctions” position.

During Park’s visit to the eastern port city of Qingdao, the Chinese Communist Party-owned Global Times praised Yun for showing “independent diplomacy and rationality toward China” by not meeting US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi face-to-face.

But the newspaper warned that the THAAD issue is “a major hidden threat that cannot be avoided in China-South Korea relations.”

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Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Additional reporting by Soo-Hyang Choi in Seoul and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Josh Smith and William Mallard

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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