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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Chinese President Xi Jinping voiced opposition to the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile battery during bilateral talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday.
“Mishandling the issue is not conducive to strategic stability in the region, and could intensify disputes,” Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported quoting Xi as saying.
In response to the remarks, Park said THAAD would be deployed as a countermeasure only against the North’s nuclear and missile power, and it will be no longer needed once the issues of the North’s nuclear and missiles are resolved, the South Korean presidential office said on an official website.
Xi and Park held 40-minute talks on the sidelines of the Group of G20 summit which has taken place for two days on September 4 and 5 in Hangzhou of China’s Zhejiang Province.
Park underscored that both countries should sternly and firmly respond to the North’s provocations with the view that this is the last chance to deter the North’s nuclear ambitions. She also expressed her hopes that South Korea, the U.S., and China will have the constructive and comprehensive discussion on the issues including THAAD, according to the South Korean presidential office.
“The South’s government and I have a ‘firm determination’ to set count on the South – China relations and move forward it further in the future,” the South Korean Yonhap News Agency reported on Monday as quoting Park said during the bilateral talks.
Xi, however, called on the South Korean counterpart to actively engage in “developing peace” in the North East Asian region as pointing out “the destabilizing factors” the Korean peninsula and East North Asian region has been increasing during the one-on-one meeting, according to Yonhap.
“We should respect a foundation for political cooperation that we have,” Yonhap said quoting Xi’s remarks. “Both have to push forward the China- South Korea relation to improving ‘on the right track’ soundly and steadily as overcoming ‘difficulties and challenges.'”
A few hours after the bilateral meeting between Park and Xi, North Korea test-launched three ballistic missiles in the waters of the Sea of Japan (known in Korea as the East Sea) on Monday, South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff reported.
DOMESTIC POLITICAL INTEREST
Xi’s mention of the THAAD issue during bilateral talks was influenced by “domestic political factors”, according to Kim Heung-kyu, Director of China Policy Institute at Ajou University, and part of a move to quell political opposition to his more friendly policy towards the South.
“The deployment of the THAAD battery struck a very strong blow to Xi Jinping’s new and drastic policy,” Kim told NK News. “If he didn’t raise the issue which has been heated up between the South and China, he would be faced with considerable domestic political pressure and criticism.”
“Xi couldn’t help but express his stance to defend his policy (toward the South) and domestic political interests,” Kim added.
However, Kim said that Park’s official announcement that the THAAD issue should be dealt with through trilateral talks among the U.S., the South and China, was a step in the right direction.
In the past, the South has emphasized that the deployment of THAAD was the “sovereign and independent decision” and handle it within the framework of the South and the North or the South and the U.S without considering the strategic competition between G2.
“I think President Park Geun-hye clearly delivered the message of compromise as suggesting new concept and perception (on the THAAD issue),” Kim said. “Xi Jinping also doesn’t want to drive China – the South ties into disintegration, and he also exchanged the message (with Park) that China wants to compromise from my perspective (when considering the Xi’s policy).”
Meanwhile, Park held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai, on the sidelines of the second Eastern Economic Forum held in Russia.
After the talks on Saturday, Putin said “I want to stress that our countries [Russia and South Korea] do not accept the self-proclaimed nuclear status of Pyongyang,” Russian news agency Sputnik reported.
Putin’s remarks came as a surprise to many: South Korean- Russia relations have been cooled in recent months, in large part due to the THAAD deployment issue.
However, South Korea’s defense ministry on Monday shifted its firm stance, suggesting that the decision on the THAAD battery deployment could be withdrawn in the right circumstances – the position taken in Park’s interview with Russia’s state-run news agency, Rossiya Segodny.
Speaking before holding talks with Putin, Park on Friday pointed out the need for THAAD deployment will “naturally” dissipate if the North’s military threats are removed.
Featured Image: Blue House