New South Korean President Moon Jae-in has halted the United States’s planned deployment of the controversial THAAD anti-missile system. The move comes as Moon finds himself walking a delicate line between the interests of the U.S., China, Japan, and North Korea. He was also elected into office at a tense moment in foreign relations on the Korean peninsula.
Moon feels that the previous administration, which was far more THAAD-friendly and cooperative with the United States, tried to rush the THAAD installation to be effectively in place before the election, making it that much harder to remove. The New York Times quoted Choi Jong-kun, a Seoul political science professor, who explained, “The previous administration wasn’t really clear and transparent about the review process, and basically this is a legal procedure.” Deploying further THAAD launchers requires not only diplomacy, but also environmental and social review.
It’s also a matter of weighing China’s discomfort with the THAAD system with the defense needs of not only South Korea, and nearby Japan, but also U.S. troops stationed there. To keep THAAD in place and even expand it could come across as aggressive, or too decisively show where South Korean loyalties lie. To remove it could make it appear as if Moon is bowing to political interests over the safety of his own citizens. Senior fellow for Korean studies Scott Snyder noted to the Times, “THAAD is at risk of becoming overpoliticized. Both sides need to take a deep breath and reaffirm common objectives and means for dealing with them rather than allowing Thaad to become a neuralgic and reflexive object of confrontation.”
China, which is anti-THAAD, has already tried to levy sanctions against South Korea, even stemming the flow of tourists from China to the peninsula, according to the Times. But South Korea is disinclined to completely scuttle the project, which would mean pushing back against the White House, where Trump is taking an increasingly strong stance against North Korea. Essentially, South Korea is in between a rock and a hard place, trying to keep its neighbors and allies happy despite their conflicting interests.
(Via New York Times)