NATIONAL

[Newsmaker] Chinese envoy’s anti-THAAD campaign double-edged sword

By Shin Hyon-hee
  • Published : Apr 11, 2017 - 16:23
  • Updated : Apr 11, 2017 - 18:21
For Seoul, this week’s visit by Wu Dawei, special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs at Beijing’s Foreign Ministry, is timely and weighty, coming amid spiraling concerns over North Korean provocations and shortly after a US-China summit.

Yet as soon as he wrapped up his first day with business-as-usual diplomatic consultations, Wu embarked on a mission that may possibly serve what critics say is the real purpose of the trip: meeting with South Korean presidential candidates to appeal against the stationing here of the US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile shield.
 
The 71-year-old envoy held a series of talks Tuesday, starting with Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the conservative splinter Bareun Party. Wu then met separately with Rep. Shim Sang-jeung of the far-left Justice Party, former Incheon Mayor Song Young-gil, who steers the campaign of opposition front-runner Rep. Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea, and Park Jie-won, chair of the People’s Party, whose flag-bearer Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo has rapidly been soaring in polls in recent weeks. He is scheduled to meet with the Liberty Korea Party’s candidate, Hong Joon-pyo, Wednesday.

Chinese top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

Throughout the meetings, the former Chinese ambassador to Seoul singled out the planned installment of an AN/TPY-2 X-Band radar as the biggest source of its opposition to THAAD. The system is designed by the US to keep China in check, and therefore poses a threat to its national security interests, he said.

“If THAAD is deployed, it would cover nearly half of northern China,” Wu told Yoo, who supports the missile defense program. “The THAAD system is owned by the US, not South Korea, which is why we’re opposed to its deployment.

As the candidates lodged a complaint over China’s escalating economic retaliation against South Korea, the envoy argued the actions were taken “voluntarily” by Chinese citizens without any government influence, stirring heated reactions from the politicians.

“There were massive complaints in China about Lotte Group’s handover of land for a THAAD battery site. So many Chinese people are currently boycotting Lotte Super or South Korea tour products, but that’s a voluntary act that resulted from their own grievances over THAAD, and not the Chinese government’s responsibility,” Wu told Shim.

Despite her resistance toward the THAAD plan, Shim openly denounced the retaliatory steps as “rash” and “unjust,” calling for Beijing to cease them and work together instead with Seoul and Beijing to resolve the North Korean nuclear issues.

“The governments bear the responsibility for managing and keeping any discord between the South Korean and Chinese peoples from deepening,” she said.

“When we have a new government after the presidential election, the leaders of the three countries should meet and have serious discussions on ways to ensure peace on the peninsula, including the THAAD issue. In that regard, China must stop the economic retaliation.”

While Song expressed regret over the “substantial troubles” taking place in the relationship, Yoo stressed the system’s defensive nature and displayed hopes for Beijing to separately deal with THAAD and economic cooperation so as to bring the bilateral ties back on track. Park said before the talks he would urge Beijing’s greater role in thwarting Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, such as by “taking the lead” in enforcing international sanctions.

Beijing’s anti-THAAD campaign has raised eyebrows as it was deemed by many as an attempt to intervene in the May 9 presidential election.

While shunning official diplomatic consultations with Seoul, Chinese officials such as Chen Hai, deputy director general for Asian affairs at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, have visited Korea to meet with politicians, business leaders and media executives to push ahead with its stance on THAAD. He is also accompanying Wu on his current five-day trip.

Signs of economic retaliation have also risen, meanwhile, along with complaints from South Korean businesses in China. Cultural exports and tourism have taken a direct hit, amid widespread rumors of an unofficial ban on Hallyu.

The Chinese efforts may have been spurred in part by an ongoing intense debate between the candidates and parties over THAAD’s efficacy relative to its potential diplomatic repercussions. With Pyongyang’s threats rapidly evolving and military tension escalating, however, the campaign appears to be turning into a double-edged sword, making it even more politically and diplomatically difficult for the next South Korean commander in chief to upend the deployment that is already under way.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com) and Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)