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Crisis in China-South Korea Relations, Courtesy North Korea

Raj Kumar Sharma writes: The progress made by China and South Korea in their bilateral ties seems to have hit a roadblock after North Korea conducted a nuclear test and subsequent rocket test recently.

The progress made by China and South Korea in their bilateral ties seems to have hit a roadblock after North Korea conducted a nuclear test and subsequent rocket test recently. Keeping in view provocative and belligerent behavior of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, South Korea is contemplating deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the US anti-ballistic missile systems on its territory as a shield against missile threats from its northern neighbor. However, China has thrown a spanner in the wheel by opposing this move as it feels that the US anti-missile system would be too close to its territory and could be used to spy on its military program through its strong radars. It also believes that this move will further consolidate American position in northeast Asia aimed at Chinese containment.[1] Chinese military experts feel that THAAD deployment in South Korea would be followed by one in Japan which will unite the US, Japan and South Korea in a defense alliance like mini NATO. This will have serious implications for PLA’s operations over the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. This move, according to them could prompt China and Russia to stockpile ballistic missiles and deploy more nuclear-powered submarines as counterbalances.[2] Even Russia has expressed its disapproval of THAAD deployment in South Korea as its military activities too can be monitored by the system.[3]

South Korean President Park Geun-hye had been reaching out to China in recent past. She held six summit meeting with Chines President Xi Jinping till now. She even diverted ways with the US which is traditional ally of South Korea. She went to Beijing to attend a military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II, an event the United States and its other allies mostly shunned.[4] Park hoped that better relations with China could be leveraged to have Chinese pressure on North Korea. But South Korea thinks China has not done enough to pressurize North Korea after its recent provocative actions. Though China has condemned North Korea’s nuclear and missile test, its actions against the Kim regime have two serious limitations. One, if China turns its back on Kim, the regime could collapse and there could be unification of Korean peninsula under a US friendly government which will jeopardize Chinese security interests. Second, collapse of North Korea will also bring millions of refuges to China through their 880 mile border leading to social unrest and economic burden.[5] This complex interplay of interests shows that even a workable solution to Korean crisis is likely to be elusive in near future.

Endnotes

[1] Jane Perlez (2016), “North Korea’s Rocket Launch Frays Ties Between South Korea and China”, Feb 10, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/11/world/asia/china-south-korea-thaad.html

[2] Mimi Lau in Guangzhou (2016), “Why does China react so strongly over the South Korea-based anti-missile system?”, Feb 11, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/1911857/why-does-china-react-so-strongly-over-south-korea-based

[3] Elizabeth Shim (2016), “Russia, North Korea issue warnings against THAAD deployment”, Feb 10, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2016/02/10/Russia-North-Korea-issue-warnings-against-THAAD-deployment/2271455125482/

[4] Shannon Tiezzi (2016), “North Korea Nuclear Test Reveals the Limits of China-South Korea Cooperation” Jan 14, http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/north-korea-nuclear-test-reveals-the-limits-of-china-south-korea-cooperation/

[5] Charlie Campbell “North Korea Isn’t Going to Stop Provoking Its Ally China Anytime Soon”, http://time.com/4216937/north-korea-pyongyang-kim-jong-un-kaesong-industrial-complex-south-korea-china-xi-jinping/

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