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Thaad row with China hasn’t been settled yet

Beijing clarifies there is only one ultimate solution: Removal
Nov 16,2017
The row between Seoul and Beijing over U.S. deployment of an antimissile system in Korea and China’s unofficial economic retaliation will only end for good when the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) battery is removed from the peninsula, a senior official of Chinese Foreign Ministry told the JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday.

“The Thaad agreement announced by the foreign ministries of Korea and China on Oct. 31 is just the first step to resolve the problem,” he said. “The final step will be the complete withdrawal of the Thaad system.”

President Moon Jae-in also admitted that the conflict has simmered down but not ended. “China never changed its position to accept the Thaad deployment,” Moon said during a question and answer session with Korean reporters on Wednesday in the Philippines. “China still demonstrated the stance that its security interests are violated. The Thaad conflict is not completely resolved.”

Korea-China relations rapidly deteriorated over the past year as Beijing lashed out at Seoul for its decision to host the U.S.-led Thaad antimissile system to deter North Korean nuclear and missile threats. Seoul and Washington announced the decision in July 2016 and the deployment was completed in September.

Although the Moon administration stressed that the measure was “temporary,” China carried out a year-long unofficial economic blockade against Korean companies and forbade group tours going to Korea. Beijing said its powerful radar can spy on Chinese territory.

Efforts to steady a relationship put into a tailspin were made over the past months and the foreign ministries of Seoul and Beijing announced on Oct. 31 that the two countries agreed to normalize exchanges and cooperation in all areas. The Blue House also said Moon would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in the upcoming weeks to normalize relations.

Although Blue House officials said Seoul and Beijing agreed to end the Thaad spat and claimed it won’t be raised during Moon’s summit with Xi, the Chinese president pressed hard on the issue on Saturday. According to Xinhua News Agency, Xi urged Moon to “make responsible decision on Thaad that stands the test of history.”

“Because the Korean government tried to bury the matter by saying that there will be no more mention of Thaad, China was trying to remind it that until the system is removed, the conflict is not resolved,” a diplomatic source in Beijing said.

Moon faced further push when he met with Li on Monday. “China and South Korea have reached some consensus in dealing with the issue of the Thaad in the current stage,” Li was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency.

Asked about Li’s comment, a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official told the JoongAng Ilbo that the resolution of the Thaad issue will be the system’s complete withdrawal.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang also discussed the Thaad conflict and China’s stance.

“Most recently, President Xi and Premier Li have respectively met with President Moon,” he said. “And the two Chinese leaders expressed the same message; that is, we wish to overcome the obstacles which are impeding the development of China-ROK relations and strive to improve and develop bilateral ties in a sound and steady way. China is willing to work for this, and we hope the ROK could do the same with real and earnest efforts.”

As China repeatedly raised the issue, Moon told reporters on Tuesday Korea’s approach. “I explained that Thaad is not targeting China and we needed it only to respond to the North’s nuclear arms and missiles and to protect our security,” Moon said.

Moon said he made a larger agreement with Chinese leaders to put aside the Thaad spat and work together to normalize the relations. “I expect the Thaad issue won’t be addressed when I visit China next month. Plans to improve the relations will be discussed,” he said.

Presidential Spokesman Park Soo-hyun also said Wednesday that Moon and Xi reaffirmed the two countries’ agreement on Oct. 31 to repair ties. “I don’t think the Thaad issue will be mentioned again when Moon visits China,” he said.

Experts, however, said China won’t easily drop the issue. “China will bring it up or turn a blind eye to it, whenever necessary,” said Professor Han In-hee, head of Konkuk University’s China Institute. “It now becomes an issue that requires constant management of the two governments.”

“China apparently is using the Thaad issue as a strategic card for Moon’s upcoming visit and before deciding on Xi’s trip to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics,” a diplomatic source said.

BY SER MYO-JA, SHIN KYUNG-JIN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]