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China voices concern over U.S. THAAD on Korean soil

All Headlines 18:00 February 04, 2015

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- China's defense minister expressed concern Wednesday over a possible deployment of the United States' advanced missile-defense (MD) system in South Korea, Seoul's defense ministry said.

The U.S. has said it is considering deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, an integral part of its MD system, to South Korea, citing evolving threats from North Korea. It is designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles at a higher altitude in their terminal phase using a hit-to-kill method.

"Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan expressed concern over the possible THAAD deployment on the Korean Peninsula," defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters, without further elaboration.

Chang made the remark to his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo during a two-hour defense ministers' meeting in Seoul.

"In response, Minister Han reaffirmed Seoul's stance that Washington has not made any decision on the matter and has not asked South Korea (for any consultation). No agreement between Seoul and Washington exists on the issue," Kim noted, adding that the missile-defense system "aims to solely deter and counter missiles from North Korea."

It is the first time that a ranking Chinese official has raised the THAAD issue to South Korea publicly. China and Russia view it as a threat to their security, and critics also say it is part of a broader U.S. attempt to get the Asian ally to join its missile-defense system and could spark tensions with the neighbors.

The two ministers also reaffirmed their zero-tolerance policy toward North Korea's nuclear weapons program and agreed to resolve the tricky problems "via dialogue and close cooperation."

"China well understands that the Seoul-Washington allies contribute to keeping provocative North Korea in check and to peace and stability in Northeast Asia," Kim said.

The defense ministers' talks coincided with the meeting of the two countries' nuclear envoys in Beijing in apparent efforts to explore ways to restart the six-party talks at a time when ties between the U.S. and North Korea have deteriorated.

South Korea and China also agreed to establish a hotline between their defense ministers "at the earliest possible date" in order to boost their bilateral military cooperation, according to the ministry.

Last year, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding to set up the hotline, but it has yet to be finalized. The two have been operating telephone hotlines between their navies and air forces since 2008.

"To expedite the establishment, the two countries will launch a working-level meeting next week," the ministry spokesman said. "We are aiming at opening the hotline within this year at the latest."

The South Korean defense ministry already has military hotlines with the U.S. and Japan.

During the talks, South Korea also pledged to repatriate in March 68 sets of remains of Chinese soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War to their homeland in a symbolic gesture of friendship toward its former battlefield foe.

The Seoul government returned the bodies of 437 Chinese soldiers last year on humanitarian grounds. Since then, it has unearthed more remains.

During the Korean War, China fought alongside North Korea against the U.S.-backed allied forces. Historical records show that more than 1 million Chinese soldiers were killed in the three-year conflict.

Chang is in Seoul for a three-day visit that began on Tuesday. It is the first time a Chinese defense minister has visited South Korea since 2006.

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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