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The Peninsula

THAAD Remains a Persistent Issue in ROK-China Relations

Published June 11, 2020
Category: South Korea, China

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • Transportation of unspecified military hardware to the U.S. anti-ballistic missile base in South Korea raised questions on whether additional missiles have been deployed or upgraded.
  • With the U.S. government expanding the G7 to address ongoing tensions with China, South Korea received a formal invitation to participate in the group.
  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian voiced China’s displeasure on being left out of multilateral institutions and developments at the anti-ballistic missile installation in South Korea.

Implications: Despite the 2017 agreement between Seoul and Beijing that addressed the latter’s concern around the presence of U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles in South Korea, the relitigation of the controversy suggests that the missile defense system remains a wedge issue. Beijing’s response to developments at the THAAD base may have been colored by the White House hinting its intentions to mobilize its allies in the ongoing standoff with China. As U.S.-China tensions worsen, Beijing’s criticism of THAAD may also intensify in the coming weeks and months.

Context: THAAD has been a major source of tension between China and South Korea because of its ability to thwart Chinese missile capabilities. When it was first deployed to Korea in 2017, China responded with unofficial sanctions and boycotts that cost the South Korean economy about USD 6.8 billion. Although an agreement was eventually reached and the sanctions and boycott were lifted, the issue remains a provocative topic in ROK-China relations.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from Lockheed Martin‘s flickr account

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