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(News Focus) THAAD adds to deepening U.S.-China row over South China Sea

All Headlines 16:43 June 05, 2016

By Park Boram

SINGAPORE, June 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea once again clashed with an opposing China over its ongoing push to deploy the advanced United States air defense shield THAAD during an annual regional security forum in Singapore this week, offering a glimpse into a tricky path Seoul would have to walk in the run-up to the actual deployment, analysts said Sunday.

The Asia Security Summit, or the Shangri-La Dialogue, which ended its three-day run on Sunday in Singapore, became the latest venue to expose a growing thorn in the otherwise sanguine economic relations between South Korea and China.

In a plenary session speech here on Saturday, South Korea's Defense Minister Han Min-koo went out of his way to voice a unusually clear-cut stance of the South Korean government on the ongoing talks on deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

"(South Korea) has an undoubtedly clear will to deploy THAAD," Han said in his answer to a number of questions raised on the deployment plan during the session.

Later in the day, Han had an awkward face-off with China's military No. 2 Adm. Sun Jianguo over the THAAD issue in their defense meeting held on the sidelines of the Singapore forum.

In the half-hour meeting, the admiral brought up China's indignation with the deployment move, protesting that a deployment of THAAD infringes on China's strategic interests.

Han defended the deployment drive as aiming only to counter North Korea's accelerating nuclear and missile threats, offering to explain to China how technically harmless a THAAD battery on the Korean Peninsula would be, according to the minister's press briefing.

In his own plenary session speech on Sunday, the Chinese admiral, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, did not waste his chance to issue an open opposition to the deployment on an international stage.

"China is opposed to the ongoing U.S. moves to deploy the THAAD system in South Korea," the official said. "This will erode the security of the (Asia-Pacific) region."

This was the kind of discussion South Korea had tried to avoid in the beginning of the annual gathering that put together regional defense chiefs, especially from strategically important countries like the U.S. and China.

U.S. reports quoted U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter saying on his flight to the meeting in Singapore that the THAAD issue will come up in his talks with Han.

South Korea's Ministry of National Defense flatly refuted the reports saying that the issue will not be part of the bilateral meeting, a stance traceable to wild controversies surrounding issues at home as well as with neighbors like China and Russia.

South Korea and the U.S. announced on Feb. 7 the launch of their official talks to discuss the THAAD deployment, hours after North Korea test-fired a long-range rocket, with a joint working group currently in discussion on when and where to deploy the defense system as well as whether it is feasible to deploy it at all.

China has not failed to express its indignation over the deployment drive whenever there is an opportunity since South Korea and the U.S. showed signs of warming toward the deployment last year.

This has since become another difficult diplomacy task to tackle for South Korea, which has to walk a fine line between the strategically important U.S. and economically crucial China, especially when the relations between the two super powers are worsening over the South China Sea.

U.S.-China rows over the territorial tension once again came to the spotlight during a spat between Carter and the Chinese vice military chief on the occasion of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

"Indeed, in the South China Sea, China has taken some expansive and unprecedented actions, that have generated concerns about China's strategic intentions," Carter said during his plenary session speech on Saturday. "As a result, China's actions in the South China Sea are isolating it ... Unfortunately, if these actions continue, China could end up erecting a Great Wall of self-isolation."

The Chinese official hit back, saying the next day "We weren't and aren't isolated and won't be so in the future. Some are viewing China with a Cold War-era prejudice."

pbr@yna.co.kr
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