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China threatens Korea over Thaad

United States reaffirms need for battery to provide self-defense
Mar 02,2017
As Korea speeds along with the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system by sealing a land deal with Lotte Group to acquire a golf course in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, Beijing is threatening diplomatic, economic and possibly military retaliation.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said through a press briefing Tuesday that Beijing is “firmly opposed to and strongly dissatisfied with the fact that” Seoul is working with Washington to accelerate the deployment process of a Thaad battery and “ignoring China’s interests and concerns.”

He added Beijing will “resolutely take necessary actions to safeguard its own security interests,” without specifying what measures it will take.

The Korean Ministry of National Defense earlier that day signed a deal with Lotte International, the operator of the Lotte Skyhill Seongju Country Club, to swap the golf course with government land in Namyangju, Gyeonggi. Lotte’s board of directors agreed on the land swap deal on Monday, after much delay.

Seoul and Washington initially announced the decision to deploy a Thaad system this year to counter North Korea’s missile threats, and with the acquisition of the Seongju golf course, which will be transferred to U.S. Forces Korea, a battery is expected to be deployed around June.

But this move is expected to bring about even stronger retaliatory measures from Beijing, which has already levied unofficial sanctions against Korean businesses, including the entertainment industry.

When asked if Beijing plans to take punitive measures against Lotte, Geng remarked during the briefing, “the Chinese market and consumers will determine whether a foreign company is successful in China.”

“I think relevant parties know full well the opposition of the Chinese people to the deployment of Thaad by the U.S. and the ROK,” Geng also said. “I believe they have noted the voice of the Chinese people in recent days.”

Beijing’s state-run media has run editorial pieces expressing opposition to Lotte signing the land swap deal and encouraging Chinese consumers to boycott Korean products as well as Lotte, while some experts have even suggested a military response.

Chinese military expert Song Zhongping, a former officer of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Second Artillery Corps, told the state-affiliated Global Times Wednesday that once the Thaad system is deployed to Korea, “Seongju County will appear on the list of the PLA missile system’s strike targets.”

Amid such tensions over the Thaad issue, China’s official news agency Xinhua abruptly canceled an interview with Korean Ambassador to Beijing Kim Jang-soo scheduled for Tuesday just one day before on Monday, the day of the Lotte board meeting. It claimed it did not have enough reporters.

Beijing has strongly protested the deployment of the Thaad system to Korea, saying it goes against its strategic interests. It is especially wary of the X-band radar, which it thinks will be used by the United States to spy on it despite Washington claiming it will limit its range to monitor North Korea.

But U.S. and Korean defense and security chiefs reaffirmed plans to move on with the decision Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis held a phone conversation with South Korean Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo on Wednesday and welcomed the land swap deal with Lotte securing the Seongju golf course for the deployment of the Thaad battery.

The land transfer will support the alliance’s decision to station Thaad in South Korea “as soon as feasible,” said Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Kim Kwan-jin, chief of South Korea’s National Security Office, and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, U.S. President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser replacing Michael Flynn, also confirmed the need to deploy the Thaad battery in their first phone call Wednesday.

The Blue House said in a statement, “The two sides reconfirmed the need to deploy the Thaad system in order to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and agreed to push ahead with it according to plan.” It added that the Korea-U.S. alliance further agreed to “respond firmly to any additional provocations by North Korea” as they are encountering urgent security challenges through North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

But President Trump, in his first address to a joint session Congress on Tuesday, made no mention of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, despite Pyongyang’s recent intermediate-range ballistic missile launch and the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. He did call on partners to pay their fair share for strategic and military operations.

He did mention Pyongyang during a dinner at the White House the night before the address, stating, “North Korea is a world menace, it is a world problem,” adding that the country “has to be dealt with soon.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]