THAAD: North­east Asia in Dan­ger

China Pictorial (English) - - Com­ment - Text by Zhang Jing­wei The au­thor works as fel­low re­searcher at the Charhar In­sti­tute.

The United States and South Korea have de­cided to de­ploy the Ter­mi­nal High-al­ti­tude Area De­fense sys­tem (THAAD), trig­ger­ing a domino ef­fect across North­east Asia.

Both China and Rus­sia have ex­pressed their strong op­po­si­tion even though the U.S. and South Korea claim that the sys­tem is meant to abate the nu­clear threat from North Korea rather than a third party. THAAD’S su­per-sen­si­tive “de­tec­tion range,” how­ever, is wide enough to threaten Bei­jing and its sur­round­ing area, as well as strate­gic east­ern re­gions of China. It will also threaten far east­ern Rus­sia. More im­por­tantly, China and Rus­sia are con­cerned about the na­ture and emer­gence of “Asian NATO” con­sid­er­ing the cou­pling of THAAD with the mis­sile de­fense sys­tem de­ployed by Ja­pan.

The DPRK mil­i­tary an­nounced that it con­sid­ers THAAD an act of war and vowed to force­fully re­move it the mo­ment the lo­ca­tion and site are con­firmed.

At present, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has reached some con­sen­sus that the DPRK nu­clear cri­sis is a re­gional men­ace, a view shared by ev­ery other stake­holder in North­east Asia. DPRK has been slapped with another round of uni­fied sanc­tions. The risk and dan­ger of the DPRK nu­clear cri­sis can be kept un­der con­trol through pow­er­ful sanc­tions from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. It is not ben­e­fi­cial or log­i­cal to de­ploy THAAD in re­sponse to the threat from North Korea.

Both China and Rus­sia have made a rea­son­able judg­ment: THAAD has bro­ken the strate­gic bal­ance in South­east Asia and brought un­cer­tain dan­ger to the sit­u­a­tion in that re­gion.

Con­sid­er­ing the geopo­lit­i­cal games be­tween the United States and China in the Asian-pa­cific re­gion and be­tween Rus­sia and the United States in Europe, THAAD is clearly di­rec­tional in the re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can strat­egy: It has be­come a key piece of the Amer­i­can global strat­egy to re­strain both Rus­sia and China, us­ing the dan­ger from North Korea as an ex­cuse.

The sit­u­a­tion may seem sim­ple from the South Korean per­spec­tive, as they try to pro­tect their soil, but the move is ex­tremely cal­cu­lated by the act­ing party, the United States, which chuck­led to it­self when South Korea couldn’t un­der­stand why China and Rus­sia op­posed so strongly. South Korea should an­a­lyze not only whether the in­tro­duc­tion of THAAD is likely to pro­voke more fre­quent hos­til­ity from North Korea, but also how it will in­flu­ence its re­la­tions with close neigh­bors China and Rus­sia.

THAAD has yet to be de­ployed, but to­day North Korea has be­come more volatile and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween South Korea and China and Rus­sia has been strained, ev­i­denc­ing that Seoul has not thor­oughly con­sid­ered the reper­cus­sions of in­tro­duc­ing THAAD.

Rus­sia is re­spond­ing by de­ploy­ing its own mis­sile de­fense sys­tem in the Far East. Changes will hap­pen in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s sanc­tion sys­tem against North Korea. The ex­cep­tion­ally friendly re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and South Korea dur­ing Park Geun-hye’s term could be flipped up­side down. As for the U.s.-south Korea re­la­tion­ship, it’s not go­ing to im­prove be­cause of the de­ploy­ment of THAAD.

South Korea will con­tinue to pay a steep price for more than weapons and se­cu­rity af­ter THAAD is de­ployed on its ter­ri­tory. The in­ter­na­tional re­ac­tion has been heav­ily crit­i­cal of the bi­lat­eral agree­ment be­tween Seoul and Washington that hurts so many oth­ers to ben­e­fit a few. Pres­i­dent Park made an ir­ra­tional move: Her de­ci­sion hardly makes a dif­fer­ence to the reclu­sive leader of North Korea, but heav­ily dis­turbs ev­ery­where else in the re­gion and puts its neigh­bor­ing great pow­ers in dan­ger­ous dis­putes.

Seoul should con­sider that the dis­sent­ing voices on the de­ploy­ment of THAAD come not only from next door but also in­side. As re­ported in Korea Joongang Daily, Shim Jaeg­won, chair­man of the Min­joodang Com­mit­tee, de­clared the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s “op­po­si­tion to the de­ploy­ment of THAAD.” Some rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the op­po­si­tion party stated out­right that the de­ploy­ment of the sys­tem is meant “not to safeguard South Korea, but to at­tack China,” and that “China will take its re­venge in trade.” Woo Sangho, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Min­joodang, pointed out that the plan to de­ploy THAAD was a se­cret de­ci­sion hid­den from the pub­lic and the Na­tional As­sem­bly. The ap­pro­pri­ate pro­ce­dures were never fol­lowed.

South Korea’s pol­i­tics has al­ways been a power strug­gle be­tween pro­gres­sive and con­ser­va­tive, glob­ally known for fights within the Na­tional As­sem­bly as well as move­ments in the streets. The great­est threat the South Korean gov­ern­ment faces may be civil strife, which could spin out of con­trol if the will of the peo­ple is con­tin­u­ously ig­nored as the lead­er­ship kneels to Washington in desta­bi­liz­ing the re­gion.

The Asian-pa­cific re­gion is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing up­heaval from the East China Sea to the South China Sea be­cause the United States is look­ing af­ter its own in­ter­ests in the re­gion. South Korea is nei­ther Ja­pan nor the Philip­pines. Its core na­tional in­ter­est lies in grow­ing its econ­omy and trade, as well as main­tain­ing se­cu­rity and sound re­la­tion­ships with China and the United States. Any shift in the sit­u­a­tion will re­sult in dras­tic change in the re­la­tion­ships be­tween all three coun­tries and cause an im­bal­ance in the frag­ile strate­gic pat­terns of North­east Asia.

Not only does the de­ploy­ment of THAAD in­val­i­date the risk coping-mech­a­nism against the DPRK nu­clear cri­sis, but it will trig­ger re­gional arms races.

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