Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday that China's national security interests could be "jeopardized or threatened" by the THAAD missile defense system the U.S. and South Korea are considering deploying to better cope with threats from North Korea.
Speaking at a think tank in Washington, Wang said he understands the U.S. and the South want to ensure their own security, but the "X-band radar" associated with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system "has a radius that goes far beyond the Korean peninsula and reaches into the interior of China."
"In other words, China's legitimate national security interests may be jeopardized or threatened," he said during a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "We believe that China's legitimate security concerns must be taken into account and a convincing explanation must be provided to China. I don't think it's too much to ask. It's a reasonable position."
It is unusual for a senior Chinese official to publicly raise concerns about THAAD in such a specific manner. That may underline the seriousness with which China views the issue, despite repeated assurances from South Korea and the U.S. that the system is aimed only at defending against North Korean threats.
China has voiced strong protests since South Korea and the U.S. jointly announced earlier this month, shortly after the North's Feb. 7 long-range missile test, that they would begin official discussions on the possible placement of the THAAD system in South Korea.
Both Seoul and Washington have repeatedly assured Beijing that THAAD is a purely defensive system. Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also said that the system wouldn't be necessary if North Korea were denuclearized.
Wang also made a strong case for Beijing's proposal to pursue denuclearization negotiations with Pyongyang in tandem with talks about a peace treaty that would replace the 1953 armistice of the Korean War, a long-running demand from the North.
He said the U.N. Security Council will adopt a resolution limiting the North's development of nuclear missile technologies, but at the same time, "We must not give up on peace talks which provide the only viable solution to the nuclear issue."
"Without denuclearization, there will not be a peace agreement. On the other hand, without a peace agreement and without addressing the legitimate concerns of the parties, including those of the DPRK, then denuclearization cannot be achieved in the a sustainable way," Wang said.
"So we have to pursue both in parallel to achieve denuclearization and to address the concerns of the parties in a balanced way. We're prepared to work with the relevant parties to work out the pathway and steps for this dual track approach," he said.
The U.S. and South Korea have already rejected the proposal, saying denuclearization must be the priority.
Wang also said that China is against North Korea's nuclear weapons development, stressing that nuclear weapons should not be allowed on the Korean Peninsula, "either in the North or in the South, either developed indigenously or introduced from the outside."
"Should there be nuclear weapons on the peninsula, it would be detrimental to the interests of all parties. It's not in the best security interest of the DPRK itself. So, the Korean Peninsula must be denuclearized. This is China's firm goal," he said.
Wang also reiterated the importance of resolving the nuclear issue through dialogue.
"How to achieve denuclearization? Ultimately, we would have to go through negotiations just as in the case of the Iranian nuclear issue where 10 years of negotiations have produced a comprehensive agreement," he said. (Yonhap)