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Ham-handed diplomacy

Nov 16,2017
Has the patch-up between Korea and China over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield broken down already? After an alleged agreement on Oct. 31 between Seoul and Beijing on the issue, the Blue House said that China would not raise the issue again. But Chinese leaders raised the issue with Moon.

On Saturday, China’s President Xi Jinping rekindled the controversy by warning that South Korea should take responsibility for history. Two days later, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang went a step further. He said that Seoul and Beijing had agreed to deal with the diplomatic friction over Thaad step-by-step, demanding South Korea remove a stumbling block in better relations between the two countries. The remarks by Xi and Li sound very offensive. They translate into Beijing putting pressure on us.

A bigger problem is our diplomats’ clumsy ways. Before Moon met with Xi and Li, the Blue House made it clear that the issue would not be discussed in their meetings. And then it was — in both! After the meetings, the presidential office kept saying there was no discussion of Thaad. It hurriedly gave a briefing to the press after Beijing said otherwise.

We wonder why our government tried to conceal what was discussed between Moon and Chinese leaders. Li’s remarks about a phased resolution of the issue raise a strong suspicion that the Moon administration might have struck a deal under the table.

We know that Seoul made three promises to Beijing: that it would not join any regional U.S. antimissile defense system; that South Korea-U.S.-Japan security cooperation would not develop into a tripartite military alliance; and there would be no further deployment of Thaad batteries.

The Moon administration should not surrender to China’s threats. We urge our government to disclose the results of its negotiations with China as transparently as possible so that Beijing cannot distort them at will.

Our government must refrain from using such transparent words as “principles” or “promises” in the future. It should have used the term “positions” instead of agreeing to the so-called three nos. Positions can change with circumstances. If the government doesn’t get its diplomatic act together, it will only hamper future negotiations with China.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 16, Page 30