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(News Focus) THAAD row feared to hurt S. Korea-China alliance against N.K.'s nuclear threat

2016/08/10 15:11

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Aug. 10 (Yonhap) -- China has been ramping up its opposition to South Korea's plan to deploy a U.S. advanced missile defense system on its soil, with some of its scholars even raising a possibility that it could end up hurting their alliance in coping with the nuclear and missile threats from Pyongyang.

In a meeting in Beijing on Tuesday with six first-term lawmakers from the major opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK), Chinese scholars were united in expressing strong objections to the planned deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, urging Seoul to retract its deployment plan, the lawmakers told the press.

The meeting, organized by a local research institute, was held behind closed doors, with the Chinese side being made up of experts and professors on weapons and diplomacy. The six lawmakers arrived in Beijing on Monday for a three-day stay aimed at discussing THAAD with Chinese scholars.

"Chinese participants said the worst thing that could happen to South Korea is that China could attempt to go back to a blood alliance with the North," Rep. Shin Dong-kun told reporters in a press briefing held after the meeting.

The remarks could be seen as a thinly veiled warning to South Korea that the country's handling of the antimissile shield could hurt the close knit ties it has forged with Beijing.

The Chinese experts also expressed their displeasure and distrust with South Korea and the United States for their push to deploy the missile interceptor system by end-2017.

Their argument is in line with China's official stance on THAAD. Beijing has consistently claimed that THAAD infringes on its strategic security interest and voiced its views through its state-run media in recent days.

South Korea and the U.S. have countered that the interceptors and related radar are purely for defense against the North's nuclear and missile provocations.

The discord on THAAD has been feared to hurt South Korea's ability to get China to counter the North's nuclear and missile provocations.

In a recent meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in Laos, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the THAAD deployment decision has hurt their trust, though he reasserted his commitment to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

Speculation has been swirling in diplomatic circles that China isn't cooperative with the United Nations Security Council seeking to adopt a statement condemning missile provocations earlier this month by the North due to its displeasure with South Korea over the THAAD deployment plan.

Earlier in the day, it was reported that the efforts to adopt a statement fell apart due to persistent demand by China to include its stance on THAAD.

Against this backdrop came the lawmakers' visit to China, which has been drawing rebuke as local critics worry that it could be politically and diplomatically used by China to object to the THAAD deployment plan.

The lawmakers went ahead with the trip despite strong opposition from the presidential office, ruling party and even those within their own party who warned their visit would cause more divide here and only bolster China's position on the THAAD issue.

The ruling Saenuri Party is supporting the government's decision, while some from the MPK have voiced objections, though its official party stance has yet to be determined.

Apparently taking into account concerns over their visit to Beijing at such a sensitive timing, the lawmakers seem to have focused more on the challenges facing the ties between China and South Korea rather than their personal take on THAAD. For the most part, they focused on urging more concerted efforts to resolve the North's nuclear and missile threat.

After the meeting that lasted more than two hours, the participants issued a statement saying they had in-depth and frank conversations on South Korea-China relations, listened to each other on such issues as THAAD and exchanged views on how to advance bilateral ties going forward.