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Korean Peninsula and a Strategic Trilemma: Pyongyang Defiant, Seoul Resorts to US Anti-Ballistic Missile System, Beijing Perceives Threat
South Korean President Park Geun-hye presiding over a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul, South Korea, 14JUL16. The meeting was aimed at discussing follow-up measures to the recent decision by Seoul and Washington to deploy THAAD, an advanced US anti-ballistic missile system. (Arirang News)
This week’s snapshot focuses on the latest developments regarding the 07JUL16 official statement of intent to deploy a US advanced anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system on the Republic of Korea’s soil as a response to North Korea’s advancing weapons program. As part of its layered defense architecture against ballistic missiles, which dates back to the mid-1950s and continues to evolve, the United States has deployed westward systems in Alaska, Hawaii, Japan and, most recently, Guam. South Korea also has short-range Patriot missiles. The increasing frequency and intensity of DPRK rhetoric and weapons tests — including a fourth nuclear test on 06JAN16, long range missile test on 07FEB16, and fourteen additional missile tests between 10MAR16-03AUG16 — has influenced the current government to reasses the country’s diplomatic and defense strategy. President Park has moved from years of hesitation to deploy THAAD, to public support of working level talks between Washington and Seoul, to most recently an adamant defense of her recent decision to deploy a second, longer-range, top-tier layer to the country’s ballistic-missile interception capabilities. Beyond local South Korean opposition and the bilateral repercussions in Pyongyang-Seoul relations, the deployment of the system compels President Park to manage already uneasy relations with Beijing, which simultaneously serves as Seoul’s largest trading partner and Pyongyang’s historic ally. Finally, Washington and Seoul confront Russian and Chinese threat perceptions that the deployment of an American-operated anti-missile system on the Peninsula serves as a vehicle to alter regional stability in the Asia-Pacific and the global strategic balance among the major powers.
News summary of events during the week of 01AUG16- 08AUG16
- 02AUG: Jeong Se-hyun, who served as unification minister for two and a half years from 2002, said in an interview that South Korea has lost and will lose much of its diplomatic clout in Northeast Asia, as Seoul agreed with Washington to deploy the THAAD system. (Xinhua)
- 02AUG: President Park evoked memories of her parents’ assassination as she hit back at opposition to the planned deployment of THAAD. (AFP)
- 03AUG: North Korea fired a ballistic missile which landed about 155 miles off northern Japan. (NYT)
- 03AUG: In response to the North Korean launch, the United States warned it was prepared to defend “ourselves and our allies.” (AFP)
- 03AUG: Japanese PM Shinzo Abe condemned the missile test as an “outrageous act” which posed a serious threat. (AFP)
- 03AUG: South Korean FM Yun Byung-se said the missile provocation will bolster the case for South Korea and the United States to place the THAAD system on the peninsula as it demonstrates the threats from Pyongyang’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. (Yonhap)
- 03AUG: A total of 41 countries submitted action plans to the United Nations that aim to penalize North Korea for conducting its fourth nuclear and long-range missile tests earlier this year. (Yonhap)
- 03AUG: President Park’s office said she will visit Russia next month to attend an economic forum and discuss North Korea’s nuclear program with President Vladimir Putin. (AP)
- 03AUG: The United States, Japan, and ten other countries requested a UN investigation of North Korea’s ballistic missile tests. (AFP)
- 03AUG: US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power hit back at suggestions that the decision to deploy the THAAD system in South Korea provoked recent ballistic missile tests by North Korea. (Reuters)
- 03AUG: North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un delivered a speech to troops during an elite army meeting. (UPI)
- 04AUG: The South Korean Defense Ministry said it could share information on North Korean missile launches obtained from the THAAD’s radar. (Kyodo)
- 04AUG: The South Korean Foreign Ministry said top nuclear envoys of Seoul and Tokyo vowed to closely work together to cope with Pyongyang’s continued missile provocations. (Yonhap)
- 04AUG: A South Korean foreign ministry spokesperson said Seoul will look into whether China’s recent closure of a visa agency catering to South Koreans has something to do with Seoul’s deployment of the THAAD system. (Yonhap)
- 04AUG: Japan’s new defence minister Tomomi Inada singled out North Korean provocations and Chinese use of “force” in territorial disputes as she reviewed troops on her first day on the job. (AFP)
- 04AUG: China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency said in an article that the deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea threatens the security of China and Russia and reflects “anxiety over the United States’ declining global hegemony.” (EFE)
- 05AUG: A top South Korean diplomat said the country is keeping close tabs on the strong-worded media response from China and its possible retaliatory measures against Seoul’s plan to deploy the American anti-ballistic missile system. (Yonhap)
- 06AUG: Pyongyang accused Washington of planning a pre-emptive nuclear strike, after the US announced it would deploy its B-1 bomber in the Pacific for the first time in a decade. (AFP)
- 07AUG: South Korea rejected China’s criticism over the planned THAAD deployment, saying Beijing’s failure to curb its ally North Korea had created the situation. (AFP)
- 07AUG: Despite an open appeal from Seoul’s presidential office to reconsider the trip, a group of opposition lawmakers were set to meet with Chinese Communist Party officials and academics to hear their views on the growing diplomatic row over the planned THAAD deployment. (Yonhap)
- 08AUG: Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada ordered the nation’s military to be ready to destroy any missiles fired by North Korea that threaten the country. (AFP)
Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about DPRK’s missile testing and THAAD deployment
- @Abel_Romero_ – Abel Romero, Director of Government Relations, Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance
- @darciedraudt – Darcie Draudt, PhD Student in Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
- @duyeonkim – Duyeon Kim, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Korean Peninsula Future Forum
- @KathyHSMoon – Kathy Moon, SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies, Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Brookings
- @MissileMonitor – Lars Olberg, Desk Officer for Human Rights, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Gemany in Moscow
Sample of Third Party Validators regarding the DPRK’s missile testing and THAAD deployment
Kim Dong-yup, Professor, Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES), Kyungnam University
“There is the possibility that Kim Jong-un was there for Wednesday’s launch of two Rodong missiles, as well as at the past five test fires of the Musudan missiles. The international sanctions against North Korea have influenced Kim’s more frequent public appearances at these missile launches. On an implicit level, he is doing this as a form of nuclear-force propaganda to relieve his people’s concerns over national security.”
- “North Korean leader more visible at missile launch sites,” Yonhap, 07AUG16
Rod Lyon, Fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist
“China’s right to believe that THAAD surveillance data could be transferred to other BMD assets protecting CONUS [Conteninetal US]…But the United States already has a THAAD battery deployed on Guam, two AN/TPY-2 radars deployed in Japan…space-based assets, plus a range of ship-borne radars and larger land-based radars in other parts of the Pacific theatre. Would a THAAD deployment in South Korea change much? The short answer is that it could improve early tracking of some Chinese missiles, depending on their launch point. Still, that might not make actual interception of those missiles much easier. ICBM warheads move fast. And sophisticated penetration-aids help to confuse missile defenses.”
- “The Hard Truth About THAAD, South Korea and China,” The National Interest, 23FEB16
Sukjoon Yoon, Retired navy captain and a senior research fellow of the Korea Institute for Maritime Strategy, visiting professor at the Department of Defense System Engineering, Sejong University, Seoul, Korea.
“The deployment would imply that South Korea is part of the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) led by the US Missile Defense Agency. South Korea is also developing an indigenous missile defense system against North Korean threats, the Korea Air Missile Defense (KAMD) system, which is less likely to antagonize China than Thaad, since it will not be integrated into the wider BMD system designed to counter Iran in Europe and China in the Asia-Pacific.”
- “Are China’s THAAD Fears Justified?,” The Diplomat, 20FEB15
Wu Riqiang, Associate professor at the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China.
“US missile defence is likely to expand as fast as the technology advances. It will be constrained only by budgetary considerations. China is not worried about current missile defence architecture, but rather the unpredictable future of missile defence. The lack of flexibility in US attitudes in deploying THAAD in South Korea does not help to mitigate China’s anxiety.”
- “South Korea’s THAAD risks rising tensions with China,” S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), 27JUL16
Shim Sang Ryul, Professor of international trade, Kwangwoon University
“China doesn’t agree with South Korea’s argument that Thaad is solely targeted at North Korea, and China could use administrative measures to make an uncomfortable situation for South Korean exports, such as delay at the customs. We may have to brace for a trade off between short-term decline in economic benefits for the sake of longer-term national security.”
- “South Korea Fears China Trade Hit Over Missile System,” Bloomberg, 04AUG16
Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the DPRK’s missile testing and THAAD deployment
- UPDATE: S. Korea’s Park gets personal in US missile system row
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 02 August 2016
Seoul, Aug 2, 2016 (AFP) – President Park Geun-Hye on Tuesday evoked memories of her parents’ assassination as she hit back at opposition to the planned deployment of an advanced US anti-missile system in South Korea.
The defence ministry announced last month that the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system, or THAAD, will be installed in Seongju — a rural county about 200 kilometres (135 miles) southeast of Seoul — by the end of next year.
- UPDATE: S.Korean president’s support rate drops after THAAD deployment decision
Media: Xinhua (China)
Date: 03 August 2016
SEOUL, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) — South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s approval rating posted a double-digit decline in her political home turf following a decision to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in its soil.
Park’s support rate in North Gyeongsang province, a traditional home ground for herself and the ruling Saenuri Party, tumbled 14.8 percentage points from a month earlier to 27.7 percent, according to a survey of 1,224 adults conducted by local pollster Research View between July 29 and 31.
- UPDATE: China’s Xinhua says THAAD in South Korea reflects U.S. anxiety
Media: EFE (Spain)
Date: 04 August 2016
Beijing, Aug 4 (EFE).- The deployment of the American THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea threatens the security of China and Russia and reflects “anxiety over the United States’ declining global hegemony,” China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency said Thursday in an article.
The article claims the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system shows “Washington’s insatiable appetite for global hegemony and its vain anxiety towards an imaginary enemy from a rising China.”
- S. Korea keeps tabs on response from China to THAAD deployment
Media: Yonhap (South Korea)
Date: 05 August 2016
SEOUL, Aug. 5 (Yonhap) — South Korea is keeping close tabs on the strong-worded media response from China and its possible retaliatory measures against Seoul’s plan to deploy a United States missile defense system on the peninsula, a top diplomat said Friday.
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, however, emphasized that it is important to work in a way to resolve any conflict with Beijing through a broad framework of diplomatic relations with the neighboring country.
- Opposition lawmakers to visit China despite presidential plea
Media: Yonhap (South Korea)
Date: 07 August 2016
SEOUL, Aug. 7 (Yonhap) — Six first-term lawmakers of South Korea’s main opposition party will visit China this week despite an open appeal from the presidential office to reconsider the trip, a party spokesman said Sunday.
The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae issued a statement earlier in the day urging the lawmakers of the Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK) to cancel the trip scheduled for Monday through Wednesday.