(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on March 6)
A new arms race
Seoul-Beijing relations have rapidly unraveled after China's retaliation for our government's decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system. Beijing's overly sensitive reaction even caused our stock market to fluctuate, not to mention our people's attitudes towards China growing chillier. China is increasingly turning into a regional risk instead of a partner for coexistence and co-prosperity.
China is ratcheting up risks beyond the boundaries of the Korean Peninsula and East Asia. At the National People's Congress that convened Monday in Beijing, the government allotted over 100 trillion yuan ($14.5 trillion) for its 2017 defense budget for the first time. The growth rate for its military expenditure — seven percent — outpaced its economic growth rate of 6.5 percent.
If China continues its military expansion into the South China Sea and East China Sea based on new aircraft carriers and stealth fighter jets, it could spark conflicts with Korea and Japan, not to mention the United States.
The Donald Trump administration also upped its defense budget to $603 billion — a whopping $54 billion hike from the previous year — to achieve a goal of "peace through power." We appear to be in a new arms race. It is very worrying for China to turn to the outside to flex its newfound economic and military muscle.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visits to Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing in such a situation is an encouraging sign. U.S. intervention is necessary to settle the conflict over Thaad as the missile defense battery is primarily aimed at protecting U.S. forces in South Korea.
Tillerson must do his best to stop China's retaliations and seek understanding from Beijing on the issue.
The disagreement over Thaad basically originates with the North's nuclear threats. According to the New York Times, the U.S. National Security Council discussed all options, including a redeployment of strategic nuclear weapons to South Korea, to achieve a dramatic warning effect. To neutralize Pyongyang's nuclear threats and safeguard our security, a nuclear balance must first be achieved.
There is a big difference between the deployment of U.S. strategic weapons in South Korea and ordering tactical nuclear weapons to take off from U.S. military bases in Guam, Okinawa and Hawaii. Uncle Sam needs to consider the deployment of U.S. aircraft carriers and strategic bombers around the peninsula on a permanent basis. Addressing the North's nuclear threats is the key to settling the conflict over Thaad.