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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 19)

All News 07:07 July 19, 2021

Undiplomatic behavior
Chinese envoy should not interfere in Korean politics

Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Xing Haiming has triggered a controversy over an opinion piece he wrote rebutting a leading presidential hopeful's views on the Seoul-Washington alliance and a U.S. missile defense system. He cannot deflect criticism for this diplomatic discourtesy, and trying to interfere in Korean politics.

In his op-ed article published Friday in the local daily Joong-Ang Ilbo, Xing refuted remarks by former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, who declared his bid to run for president last month. Yoon said in an interview with the daily Thursday that it was possible for Seoul to establish horizontal relations with Beijing only when South Korea strengthens cooperation with countries sharing the same values based on its bilateral alliance with the U.S. His remarks were apparently intended to stress the need for a stronger alliance and partnership with Washington.

Yoon also stated that the 2017 deployment of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile system on Korean soil was definitively a matter of sovereignty. He said that China should first remove its long-range radar systems on its border if it wants THAAD to be pulled out from South Korea. He seemed to deliver a message that THAAD is to defend South Korea against North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threats. He also probably sought to ease China's concerns about the U.S. missile defense system.

However, Amb. Xing claimed that the THAAD deployment seriously damaged China's security interests, adding that the Korea-U.S. alliance should not hurt the interests of his country. He also argued that Seoul-Beijing relations were not an accessory to Seoul-Washington ties. Besides, he pointed out that China's radar systems and its military power are no threat to South Korea at all. Yet it is widely known that China is conducting surveillance over the Korean Peninsula using radars which can cover much longer ranges than that of THAAD.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for Xing to be "cautious." The semiofficial Yonhap News Agency quoted a ministry official that a foreign diplomat needs to be cautious about any public expression of an opinion regarding remarks by a politician of a host nation. Such expression could have a negative effect on the development of relations between the two countries. The official also made it clear that the THAAD deployment was solely for defensive purposes to counter potential nuclear and missile attacks from North Korea.

In many respects, Xing's rebuttal of Yoon's remarks could be seen as an undiplomatic move to interfere in South Korea's political process ahead of the next presidential election set for March 2022. The envoy should have taken a more careful approach. He should not try to impose his or his country's views on presidential contenders such as Yoon. Instead, Xing must do his best to enhance mutual trust and understanding between the two countries so that they can forge a better partnership.
(END)

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