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(4th LD) China voices concern over U.S. THAAD on Korean soil

All Headlines 18:01 March 16, 2015

(ATTN: ADDS more info, remarks by U.S. official in last 8 paras)
By Kim Soo-yeon

SEOUL, March 16 (Yonhap) -- China called on South Korea Monday to take heed of Beijing's concern over the possible deployment of an advance U.S. missile-defense system on South Korean soil when Seoul makes a decision on the issue.

The United States has expressed its hope to deploy a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in South Korea, but Seoul and Washington have said that there have been neither consultations nor a decision related to the THAAD deployment.

China has explicitly voiced its opposition to Washington's possible deployment of a THAAD battery in South Korea, apparently out of concerns the move may be aimed at containing a rising China.

"We had very candid and free discussions over the THAAD issue," Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Jianchao said after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Lee Kyung-soo in Seoul. "It would be appreciated if Seoul takes account of China's concerns and worries."

Liu, who arrived in Seoul on Sunday for a four-day visit, expressed China's hope that South Korea and the U.S. make an "appropriate" decision on the issue, but also added that China is concerned about a possible deployment.

The remarks by Liu, who has been in charge of bilateral relations with Seoul, Pyongyang and Tokyo at China's foreign ministry since July 2014, follow similar comments made by Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan during his visit to Seoul last month.

The meeting between Liu and Lee came amid a simmering Washington-Beijing row over an advanced U.S. missile-defense system and a China-led Asian development bank.

Experts say South Korea's decision on the THAAD issue could upset either the U.S. or China.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken told reporters in Seoul last month that THAAD, if deployed, is aimed at exclusively dealing with the threat posed by North Korea, calling it a "purely defensive and good system."

South Korea has said it does not plan to buy THAAD, but it is also not opposed to a possible deployment on Korean soil if Washington brings the advanced defense system here to protect the about 28,500 American troops stationed in the country.

A government official said that Seoul plans to decide on the THAAD issue from a comprehensive perspective. It also delivered to China its hope that Beijing could do its part to resolve North Korea's evolving nuclear threats.

Touching on a China-proposed development bank, Liu said that China repeated its hope for Seoul to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

China launched the AIIB late last year with other 20 nations as a counterbalance to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), led by the U.S. and Japan.

"I explained the progress of the AIIB. I expressed hope again that South Korea will become a founding member of the bank," Liu said.

South Korea said it will decide whether to join the bank by taking into account economic benefits and governance, according to a government official.

The U.S. has raised concerns about the AIIB, citing its lack of transparency in decision-making processes. Washington apparently has pressed its ally Seoul to be cautious about joining the regional bank.

Seoul plans to decide whether to join the AIIB soon as China has said the deadline to become a founding member of the bank is the end of March. Britain announced its plan last week to join the bank, becoming the first Western country to do so.

Liu's visit to Seoul also coincides with a trip by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel.

Russel arrived in Seoul earlier in the day for a two-day visit, during which he will meet with his Korean counterpart Lee to discuss issues of mutual interest and to reaffirm their countries' strong alliance, according to the foreign ministry.

THAAD and the AIIB may be discussed at the talks slated for Tuesday, according to government sources.

On Monday, Russel plans to meet with U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert, who is recovering after sustaining injuries in a knife attack early this month.

Lippert was slashed by anti-U.S. activist Kim Ki-jong on his face and wrist with a knife during a breakfast function in downtown Seoul on March 5, leaving the envoy with wounds that required 80 stitches.

"I will express my government's appreciation for the cooperation and the support that they (Koreans) have extended and continue to extend in response to this attack," Russel said upon arrival at an airport.

Russel added that he will have talks over the "broad spectrum of alliance issues" with Seoul officials.

"We have a lot of work to do, a lot of very important work to do," he added, without elaborating.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
(END)

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