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Expert: ROK shouldn't imagine China accepting THAAD

( Source: China Military  )         2017-January-5 17:31

BEIJING, Jan. 5 (ChinaMil) -- Since the government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) decided to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile battery last July, China and ROK haven't stopped arguing.

Although the currently suspended President of ROK Park Geun-hye, who started all the entanglement by approving the THAAD deployment, was impeached by the National Assembly because of the Choi-gate that threw the ROK political world into a chaos, and she had no diplomatic or political leverage whatsoever, the ROK Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn who is acting president now insisted that "THAAD deployment is irreversible".

The ROK defense ministry released similar information, which shattered the hopes for ROK opposition parties and people living in the place where THAAD is to be deployed, who once placed their hopes on the ROK government to suspend, freeze or eventually cancel the deployment.

Meanwhile, some ROK scholars specializing in China issues continued to take the US-ROK military alliance as the diplomatic cornerstone and called for reinforcing the US-Japan-ROK military regime.

They seemed to have formed such an optimistic forecast that although China won't accept THAAD, it cannot do anything about it if ROK does deploy it. In other words, they thought China had no choice but to accept it.

Others believed that if China does sanction ROK because of THAAD, that will be a "pyrrhic victory", so China will sacrifice security interests for economic and trade interests since the two countries have become too interdependent in economic and trade relations.

Moreover, ROK's THAAD deployment is supported by the US, and neither China nor US dares to have a complete falling-out now.

In sum, those people held that China will eventually accept ROK deploying the THAAD system, but their views are not completely ungrounded.

The China-ROK confrontation or even hostility arising from THAAD will hurt both countries, and China seems to have the reasons to let ROK get away with it from a geopolitical perspective.

But the question is: is there any room for bargaining about the nature of introducing THAAD to ROK? The answer is no.

First, ROK's deployment of THAAD threatens China's geo-security and core interests, and Beijing has enough reason to be angry.

THAAD's front-end reconnaissance and terminal interception capability far outstrips the need to fend off threats from the DPRK. Once it's deployed, China's strategic depth including military deterrence will be completely exposed.

Have those ROK scholars thought what that means for China? Once a country's security and core interests are challenged, trade, culture and fashion, no matter how important and substantial they are, doesn't matter anymore.

Some ROK scholars reckoned that given the mounting downward economic pressure and the complicated geo-situations in Northeast Asia, China doesn't have the gut or courage to adopt a tough stance. Don't they know that "never trade core interests" is China's consistent policy and practice? And it is China's bottom line that's especially important today.

Second, deploying THAAD doesn't just concern ROK itself.

The ROK, the US, Japan and China, none of them can stay intact if anything happens to the others. China won't allow any instigation of war, trouble or chaos at its doorstep, nor will it allow such obvious hidden hazards.

The ROK is sending trouble to its neighbors on the pretext of self-defense, which appears righteous but is in fact extremely irresponsible.

Third, deploying THAAD will not only add fuel to the flame of Chinese people's public opinions, but also pour salt on the wounds in the ROK society.

The flame of Chinese public opinions ignited by ROK will make trouble for the upcoming 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, and will easily spread to burn ROK too.

Some ROK scholars mistakenly thought that the Chinese government cannot bear the immense pressure from public opinions. Some even held that Chinese tourists will travel to ROK as usual even if bilateral relations worsen, and put up the attitude that "public opinions don't follow government order and let's see what Beijing can do".

They mistook China's unwillingness to hurt cultural exchanges and tourism between the two countries for its submission to public opinion pressure. This is understandable if it is just young cynicism, but if it's the intentional hype by elite scholars, they are as good as forcing China to divert the public sentiment to be against ROK.

China used to respect and attach importance to the cooperation with ROK, and still takes improving bilateral relations as an important part of its surrounding diplomacy. But if ROK think tanks take this as a sign that China will make unconditional concessions on major principles such as geo-strategy and national security, they cannot be more wrong.

There are ancient Chinese sayings that advise people to "forbear small inconveniences for the big picture", but that doesn't apply to THAAD deployment. The ROK deploying THAAD is no small matter. It's a touchstone that will test Beijing's principles and stance and its capability to cope with public opinions, and also test the Blue House's wisdom and sincerity in not splitting its society and failing its people again.

Relevant parties should all bear in mind that THAAD is an extremely sensitive presence in the Northeast Asian geo-strategy, and there is no room for bargaining about the nature of "deploying THAAD in ROK". If the ROK insists on going down the wrong path, it will only find itself over the barrel.

Written by Da Zhigang, research fellow at the Northeast Asia Institute of Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, the views do not necessarily reflect those of eng.chinamil.com.cn.

 

Editor :  Zhang Tao