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Beijing official calls for S. Korea's 'right judgment' amid U.S.-China trade conflict

All Headlines 12:00 June 04, 2019

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap-Joint Press Corps) -- A Chinese official has urged South Korea to make the "right judgment" to ensure good relations between the two countries amid concerns that an intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry could force Seoul to make tricky geopolitical choices between the major powers.

Washington and Beijing have been clashing on trade, maritime security, intellectual property and other issues, when Seoul strives to strengthen its security alliance with the United States and strategic partnership with China.

"As scholars say the bilateral relationship has been moving forward normally after the THAAD (conflict), there should not be a new variable," an official at China's foreign ministry said in a recent meeting with South Korean reporters in Beijing.

"Thus, the South Korean government should make the right judgment and (it) will," the official added.

The official was referring to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, an advanced missile defense unit that the U.S. deployed to South Korea in 2017 to counter North Korea's evolving missile threats.

China has vehemently opposed the dispatch, arguing that the powerful radar system of the THAAD battery could be used to spy on its military, and that the battery could tip the regional security balance in the U.S.' favor.

But in late 2017, Seoul and Beijing agreed to put their strained ties back on a normal track, though differences over the THAAD deployment were not fully reconciled.

The great-power conflict in the economic realm has also been posing a nettlesome foreign policy challenge to South Korea, as the U.S. appears to have prodded its allies not to use equipment of China's telecom titan Huawei on security concerns.

Washington's campaign against Huawei products came as Seoul is seeking to beef up cooperation in restarting nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang that have been stalled since the no-deal summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February.

The Chinese official said that Beijing respects Seoul's alliance with Washington but stressed it should not harm China's security interests.

"Regarding the bilateral relationship forged under a bilateral agreement, (China) respects the South Korea-U.S. alliance," the official said. "However, that should be kept in a way that does not affect the security interests of neighboring countries, particularly China."

Maritime security is another geopolitical fault line between the U.S. and China.

Washington has reportedly demanded that Seoul support its drive amid Beijing's claim to the South China Sea with the "nine-dash line" -- a boundary that takes in more than 90 percent of the waterway where the world's crucial sea lines of communication coalesce and where massive oil and natural gas fields are thought to lie.

To counter China's maritime claims, the U.S. appears to have been encouraging its allies to join "freedom of navigation" operations as part of efforts to protect the "rules-based order" and "global commons" in all domains, including cyberspace.

Touching on the possibility of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to South Korea, the Beijing official said that China's foreign ministry is studying the possibility and continuing to consult with Seoul's foreign ministry and the South Korean Embassy in China.

This image shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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