The U.S. Army chief of staff told his Chinese counterpart Tuesday that the THAAD missile defense system the U.S. plans to deploy to South Korea is "not a threat in any way to China," the Army said in a statement.
Gen. Mark A. Milley made the remark during a two-hour meeting with People's Liberation Army Gen. Li Zuocheng in Beijing, stressing the missile defense system is aimed only at defending against North Korean threats, according to the Army statement.
"He told his counterpart that the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance decision to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system is a defensive measure to protect South Koreans and Americans from the North Korean ballistic missile threat, not a threat in any way to China," the statement said.
South Korea and the U.S. decided last month to place a THAAD battery in the South.
China has strongly protested the decision, claiming that the system, especially its powerful "X-band" radar, can be used against it, despite repeated assurances from the U.S. and the South that the system is purely defensive and designed only to cope with North Korean threats.
In Tuesday's talks, Milley expressed the U.S. intent to maintain open channels of communications with the Chinese military to reduce the risk of crisis or miscalculation and candidly address differences, the Army said.
"Gen. Milley also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to adhere to international rules and standards and encouraged the Chinese to do the same as a way of reducing regional tensions," it said. "Gen.
Milley also discussed ways to deepen practical cooperation between the U.S. Army and the PLA in areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster response."
China was the first leg of Milley's nine-day trip that will take him to South Korea, Japan and Hawaii.
In South Korea, Milley will visit U.S. Army troops and meet with Korean military leaders.
"While there, he will receive updates on brigade deployments, the combined U.S. and ROK 2nd Infantry Division, the relocation of U.S. Army units to Camp Humphreys, and plans to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense to protect the Republic of Korea from North Korean ballistic missile threats," the Army said in an earlier statement.
The U.S. had long desired to deploy THAAD in the South, but Seoul had wavered over whether to accept the deployment because of strong objections from China.
North Korea's fourth nuclear test in January and the long-range rocket launch the following month provided a strong impetus for the U.S. and South Korea to move ahead with formal discussions about the potential placement of THAAD in the South.
The North also protested the decision to deploy THAAD, claiming it's part of a plot to invade the country. (Yonhap)