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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 13)

Diplomacy 07:08 May 13, 2022

Discourteous and undiplomatic
China under fire for raising THAAD issue again

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan has come under criticism for his seemingly inappropriate statement during his meeting with President Yoon Suk-yeol on Tuesday. Wang, who came here to attend Yoon's inauguration ceremony as Chinese President Xi Jinping's special envoy, offered a five-point proposal designed to promote bilateral relations further. Most notably, he cited the need for the two countries to "properly handle sensitive issues." China has used this expression when attempting to demand the withdrawal of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system from Korea.

Seoul and Beijing agreed to terminate the dispute on THAAD issues and mend their soured relations in October 2017. Despite the agreement, China's Xi repeatedly called on former President Moon Jae-in to "properly handle the issue." It is inappropriate for Wang to raise the issue again in the meeting with Yoon as he was visiting to congratulate him on taking office. Critics said Wang's remark can be interpreted as bullying.

It is also improper for Xi to convey his invitation for Yoon to visit China via Wang. This can be problematic in light of the strict principle of reciprocity in the diplomatic world. Xi has not visited Seoul since July 2014. In comparison, former President Park Geun-hye visited Beijing in September 2015, while Moon also visited China twice. Though Xi and other ranking Chinese officials revealed Xi's intention to visit Korea many times, they failed to put the pledges into practice.

Against this backdrop, criticism has been growing that China was trying to use Xi's possible Korea visit as diplomatic leverage to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States. China's official media outlets focused on the "sensitive issues" without referring to Xi's invitation to Yoon, which shows the real motives of Wang's visit here. China should have said that Xi wanted to meet Yoon at a convenient time, without specifying the exact place in consideration of Korea's stance. Given this, it was proper for Yoon to express his hope to meet Xi in Seoul while appreciating Xi's invitation.

China is installing a radar system, estimated to be far more sophisticated than THAAD, in Shandong province, only 500 kilometers from Seoul. Given this, it is totally inappropriate for China to continue raising the THAAD issue, citing security concerns. Worse still, China has remained silent on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's statement indicating the possible use of nuclear weapons against South Korea. It has also blocked the move by the United Nations to take retaliatory measures against Pyongyang for its firing of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Moon deserves criticism for his low-profile attitude toward China, prompting it to take such "haughty" stances in its relations with Seoul. It is high time for the two countries to join efforts to open a new era of bilateral relations based on common prosperity and peace. This is all the more significant as this year marks the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

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