(2nd LD) Ruling party demands lawmakers' visit to China be canceled amid THAAD controversy
(ATTN: ADDS opposition party lawmaker's remarks in last 2 paras)
SEOUL, Aug. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's ruling party on Saturday lambasted its rival party lawmakers' plan to visit China next week to discuss the country's plan to deploy a U.S. missile defense system, saying that it is a "shame to our politics" and urging them to call off the trip right away.
Political circles here have been divided over the government's decision unveiled in July to place a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery on Korean soil by end-2017 to counter North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile threats.
The ruling Saenuri Party is supporting the government's decision, while some from the major opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK) have voiced objections, though its official party stance has yet to be determined.
Against this backdrop, six young lawmakers from the MPK who have objected to THAAD are scheduled to visit China next week for a three-day stay, during which they plan to meet with Chinese experts and Korean journalists to exchange views on the matter.
"The visit planned by the six first-term lawmakers is an act that benefits China which objects to the THAAD deployment," Saenuri Party spokesman Ji Sang-wuk said. "Who in the world are they? Lawmakers for South Korea or civic activists?"
He then called on them to cancel their trip to China immediately.
Joining the demand, Kim Young-woo, a Saenuri lawmaker who heads the parliament's defense committee, said in a telephone interview with Yonhap that their trip is no other than "playing into the hands of China."
"Their visit to China can be a shame to our politics," he added.
Kim Young-ho, a lawmaker who is spearheading the preparations for the trip to China, emphasized that it is an unofficial trip designed to meet with academic experts from there and that it has nothing to do with the party. He added that they will go ahead with the plan to visit China as scheduled on Monday.
China has objected to the THAAD deployment on grounds that it could hurt its strategic security interests, while South Korea has said that it will not aim at a third country other than the North's missile threats.
The lawmakers' plan to visit China drew keen attention from Chinese media.
In its Saturday edition, the Global Times, a daily Chinese newspaper under the wing of the People's Daily, posted a front-page top story about their trip, providing detailed information on their itinerary, background and the controversy going on in Korea's political community.
In the story titled "Anti-THAAD lawmakers under attack before their trip to China," the newspaper reported that the Korean lawmakers are trying to listen to Beijing's stance on the weapon system and Beijing-Seoul relations over the controversy.
This is the latest in a series of strong-worded reports by Chinese media with regards to THAAD amid concerns that China might take any kind of retaliation against South Korea going forward.
On Wednesday, the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of China's Communist Party, said in an editorial that South Korea will be the first target if there is an armed clash between China and the United States.
In what many suspect as retaliatory action against the planned THAAD deployment, China recently revoked the license of a key Chinese visa agency, making it harder for South Koreans to obtain multiple-entry visas. China said that it has nothing to do with THAAD.
Park Jie-won, the MPK's floor leader, said on his Facebook page that he is against the THAAD deployment on South Korean soil, but also that he opposes China's possible retaliatory actions.
He said that if Beijing takes retaliatory measures at the risk of bilateral ties, it will not help China's national interests, given the two countries' trade relations and vibrant people-to-people exchanges.