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Rob York is a feature writer for NK News and Ph.D candidate in Korean history at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The U.S. and South Korea announced on Sunday that they will start negotiations on THAAD deployment following North Korea’s launch of a satellite in defiance of international opinion, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
The U.S. has sought to convince South Korea to deploy THAAD – short for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense – a sophisticated missile defense system, for years to counteract North Korea’s weapons proliferation. South Korea has thus far weighed the U.S.’s wishes against those of China and Russia, who view THAAD deployment in a neighboring country as a threat.
The announcement did not confirm that South Korea would adopt THAAD, or announce a specific date for the talks, but at a joint press conference the allies announced that official discussions on possible deployment would begin in light of the North’s “advancing threats.”
The satellite launch – which is considered a test of equipment that would be used in a long-range missile launch and is prohibited under UN resolutions – follows North Korea’s fourth nuclear test one month ago. To date, China and the U.S. have failed to reach an agreement on new sanctions at the UN level.
In this light, observers suggested that China’s objections to the THAAD deployment may no longer work.
“While it is obvious China will oppose the deployment, as North Korea has tested its nuclear weapon and launched the rocket, South Koreans’ calls for self-defense capability will get louder,” said Lee Jung-nam of the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University.
“It is threatening move to China, as the country has been pouring lots of efforts to turn South Korea more pro-China, and distance itself from the U.S. … (so) deployment of THAAD will be seen as an action that brings back the strong old ROK-U.S. alliance, making Chinese leader Xi (Jinping)’s effort into nothing.”
“If South Korean government really decides to deploy THAAD, China will of course oppose it,” said Jeong Jae-heung of the Sejong Institute.
“But I don’t think, at this moment, China would first speak out against THAAD deployment, but wait and see to mediate how the country should react to the ROK-U.S. (decision).”
South Korea’s opposition Minjoo Party, however, did not speak in support of the meeting, and questioned the timing of the announcement.
In addition to THAAD talks, Seoul has also announced that it is expanding the use of propaganda broadcasts at the DMZ, extending their hours and possibly adding more speakers.
JH Ahn contributed to this report.