SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s government stressed Wednesday that it will make its own decisions to strengthen its defenses against North Korean threats, rejecting Chinese calls to continue the policies of the previous Seoul government that s has refrained from adding more US anti-missile batteries which Beijing strongly opposes.
The differences between South Korea and China highlighted a re-emerging rift between the countries just a day after their top diplomats met in eastern China and expressed hope the issue would not become a “stumbling block” in relationships.
Bilateral relations suffered a major blow in 2017 when South Korea installed a missile battery using the US High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
The decision drew an angry response from China, which said the anti-missile system could be reconfigured to scan its territory. Beijing retaliated by suspending tours by Chinese groups in South Korea and wiping out the Chinese operations of South Korean supermarket giant Lotte, which had provided land for the missile system.
South Korea’s former president Moon Jae-in, a liberal who continued his engagement with North Korea, tried to mend relations with Beijing by promising the “three no’s” – that Seoul would not deploy any system THAAD additional, would not participate in US-led missile defense networks and would not form a trilateral military alliance with Washington and Tokyo.
Moon’s dovish approach was dropped by his conservative successor, Yoon Suk Yeol, who pledged to strengthen security cooperation with Washington and expressed willingness to acquire more THAAD batteries to counter the acceleration North Korean efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
Commenting on Tuesday’s meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his South Korean counterpart Park Jin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin reaffirmed in a briefing on Wednesday Beijing’s position that the South Korea’s THAAD system undermines its “strategic security interests”.
He added that Seoul had pledged to enforce a “three no’s and one limit” policy, the latter apparently referring to a promise to limit operations of the THAAD battery already in place, which Seoul has never publicly announced. recognized.
“The two foreign ministers had another in-depth exchange of views on the THAAD issue, clarifying their respective positions and enhancing mutual understanding,” Wang said. He said ministers agreed “to attach importance to each other’s legitimate concerns and to continue to carefully manage and control the issue” to prevent it becoming a “stumbling block” in the bilateral relations.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it understood Wang was referring to Moon government policies with the remark “Three noes and one limit.”
He said the Yoon government has maintained that THAAD is a defensive tool to protect South Korean lives and property and a national security issue that Seoul is unwilling to negotiate with Beijing. He also insisted that the “three no’s” were never a formal agreement or promise.
“During the meeting, both sides confirmed their differences on the THAAD issue, but also agreed that the issue should not become an obstacle that influences relations between the countries,” the ministry said.
South Korea, a longtime U.S. ally, is struggling to balance the U.S. with the increasingly assertive foreign policy of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government.
Deepening disputes between Washington and Beijing over a wide range of issues, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, trade and Chinese claims over large sections of the South and East China Seas, have raised fears in Seoul that it could be wedged between its treaty ally and the largest trading partner.
When meeting with Park, Wang Yi said countries should be ‘free from outside interference’ and should not interfere in each other’s internal affairs, an apparent blow to Seoul’s tilt towards Washington. .
Wang also called on countries to work together to maintain stable industrial supply chains, a possible reference to fears that Chinese technology policy and US security controls could divide the world into separate markets with incompatible standards and products. slowing innovation and increasing costs. South Korea faces pressure from the Biden administration to participate in a US-led semiconductor alliance involving Taiwan and Japan, which China opposes.
Associated Press video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.
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