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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 7)

All News 09:26 January 07, 2017

Trump vs. THAAD

Incoming U.S. President Donald Trump has not tweeted where it is most needed: China bullying South Korea over the latter's decision to allow the deployment of a U.S.-made missile interceptor.

The decision to bring the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system here is a strategic one that serves the common interest of the two allies. For Korea, it is aimed at protecting its population against North Korea's growing missile threat but, considering the limited size of the battery to be deployed, the real benefit lies in shielding U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea.

Plus, its intrusive radar system can help the U.S. keep closer tabs on the North, a regional troublemaker, and China, its strategic competitor.

Now, Seoul is taking the drubbing by China alone. Beijing has threatened to retaliate it if it doesn't go back on the deployment plan. Already, Korean firms in China are being harassed, tourist charter flights are not approved and K-pop deals have been nixed. These moves followed threats carried by Chinese media that Korea would be put in the crosshairs of a superpower battle.

Recently, Wang Yi, its foreign minister, openly admitted that these are retaliatory measures but the two countries' relationship can be normalized, if Seoul stops its THAAD plan. China is Korea's largest trading partner so Korea stands to lose a lot, if the situation gets more serious.

China is taking advantage of the leadership void in Seoul after the impeachment of its president but also the transition in Washington. Knowing their collective hands are tied, it is boldly resorting to a sly tactic of fanning dissension in the divisive issue in Korea to get their way and make the THAAD plan cancellation a fait accompli in the early stages of the Trump presidency.

Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn recently told a visiting Korean delegation that the new administration backs the deployment. Now, the plan needs Trump's own confirmation of support. Perhaps, the new U.S. leader, a billionaire real estate developer, may get a better grip of the situation, if it is laid out in business terms.

THAAD deployment is like a 50/50 joint venture between Korea and the U.S. Korea is left holding the bag alone, while the U.S. is doing nothing. In his acceptance speech, Trump said that he would be fair to the rest of the world. He is being dared to match his words with actions.

Trump's action or lack thereof will greatly influence how the ROK-U.S. alliance will be regarded from this side of the Pacific, especially when calls for equality in relationship with the U.S. will likely get bigger in the next government, irrespective of who will take power. If Trump is serious about resetting the U.S.-China relationship, he will need all the friends he can have, and Korea is an indispensable one. Trump needs to reassure it by tweeting, "China is naughty and leave our friend alone."

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