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Signs of a thaw

May 20,2017
The freeze in relations between South Korea and China due to the deployment of the American Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield has begun to thaw.

After Lee Hae-chan, former prime minister and heavyweight lawmaker of the ruling party Democratic Party, was sent as a special envoy to Bejing by new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, President Xi Jinping said China was “willing to work with South Korea to preserve the hard-won results, properly handle disputes, and put bilateral ties back onto a normal track.”

Beijing clearly has appreciated the new government’s attempt to mend fences. Xi stressed political trust as a means to talk out differences, indicating that Beijing is ready to end its hard-line economic retaliation on Korean enterprises and brands over the Thaad issue since last year.

Xi has been making overtures to Moon ever since the liberal candidate won the presidential election. He was among the first to send a congratulatory message and converse with the new president. He paid special attention to a bus accident in Shandong Province that killed Korean kindergartners. Xi has used the launch of a new administration in Seoul as momentum to restore relations with Seoul.

Lotte Mart was able to reopen its website and a Korean musical got the green light to be performed in Beijing from next month. Ads featuring Korean celebrities reappeared on the Chinese internet and Chinese are inquiring about group tours in South Korea.

The moves, however, do not mean Beijing is now condoning the Thaad battery in South Korea. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged visiting envoy Lee to “remove” obstacles to good ties between the two nations.

Beijing has made the overture and demands reciprocal action from Seoul. The Moon administration must study what irks Beijing most about the missile shield in drawing up its response.

China was upset by Seoul’s sudden and unilateral move and worried that it can be spied on by the U.S. radar system, and that South Korea could ultimately join the U.S.-led missile defense system by installing additional shields. Since the problems are laid out, Seoul should be able to find a compromise without much difficulty.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 20, Page 30