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Trainwreck of a trip

Dec 12,2017
President Moon Jae-in’s upcoming visit to China is not likely to deliver remarkable results. The Blue House says there will be no joint statement after the summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Instead, Seoul and Beijing will separately announce their positions in a media release. That bodes ill for the future of our relations with China. South Korean presidents have often upgraded relations through a joint statement after their summits with Chinese leaders. The problem is the friction, albeit mitigated by now, over our deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system.

Moon is going to China for several reasons. The biggest one is to find a breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear crisis. He also needs to get bilateral ties back on track and put an end to China’s economic retaliations for the deployment of the Thaad system. The Moon administration also wants some encouragement for its invitation to North Korea to participate in the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. China can help with that. Moon’s attempts to invite Xi to the opening ceremony of the games is part of that effort.

The problem is that China is exploiting Seoul’s weakness to continue harping on the Thaad issue. Following Xi and Premier Li Keqiang’s lead in finding fault with the deployment, Foreign Minister Wang Yi attacks it whenever he can. The People’s Daily claims that the future of bilateral relations depends on whether South Korea keeps its promise of the so-called “three nos” — no additional Thaad deployments, no joining of a broader U.S. missile defense system, and no Korea-U.S.-Japan military alliance. That’s an intention to kill two birds with one stone — helping Xi save face while urging Seoul to keep its promise.

That’s nothing less than a brazen attempt to tame South Korea. We wonder if Moon really has to go to China under such circumstances. Moon can hardly avoid China’s complaints about Thaad. He must counter Beijing’s arguments by holding China accountable for the Thaad deployment. South Korea brought in the antimissile system to defend against missile attacks by North Korea. But China has always found loopholes in international sanctions on North Korea for domestic reasons.

Moon must urge Xi to stop oil supplies to North Korea to resolve the nuclear problem. He must tell Xi that the conflict over Thaad will be addressed the moment the crisis is over. Moon must not try to achieve anything else on this trip. He must say what he must with principles and patience.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 12, Page 38