South Korea emphasized the importance of national security when responding Wednesday to a threat by China’s ambassador that bilateral ties could be ruined “in an instant” if the South decides to deploy a missile defense system from the United States.
"It's a matter to be decided in accordance with security and national interests, and China will have to recognize the point," Seoul’s presidential office spokesperson Jeong Yeon-guk stated to reporters.
The warning from China’s Seoul-based ambassador, Qiu Guohong, had come during a discussion Tuesday with the interim head of South Korea’s main opposition party.
The Minjoo Party of Korea has itself questioned the merits of deploying a THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) battery.
The South’s ruling party went even further than the presidential office, however, as Saenuri floor leader Won Yoo-cheol described Qui’s remarks as “rude and unreasonable”.
According to local news agency Yonhap, Won insisted at a meeting of senior party members that the THAAD question should be settled “from the perspective of national interests and the safety of our people”.
Beijing’s concerns for its own security are based on the possibility that the U.S. missile defense system could be used by Washington to spy on China -- although Won pointed out that “China operates missile technology that can even reach Alaska.”
There had been speculation this week that the U.S. might have delayed THAAD negotiations with South Korea while trying to appease Beijing ahead of talks involving its Secretary of State John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi -- following which Kerry told a briefing that his country is “not hungry” to deploy THAAD in the South.
But the senior U.S. official did suggest that the system might need to be considered unless China’s ally North Korea commits to denuclearization.
Given the North’s recent rocket launch and nuclear test, which defied United Nations resolutions, Seoul and Washington have been strengthening their joint military posture in an apparent attempt to deter any further provocations.