Tobias J Song
Again, Korean Peninsula is in the powerful stream of politics and military power games between South Korea and North Korea, or these events may be the games between the United States and China. Last month, we could witness the raging political waves in the peninsula. On February 13, 2017, Kim Jong Nam, the first child of the former leader of North Korea was assassinated in Malaysia Kuala Lumpur International Airport. International communities accused North Korea’s inhumane decision to kill someone who has been standing against their leader, and they reacted by launching four missiles into the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Right after that day, the South Korean government announced they brought THADD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) in the South Korean territory and they will establish that within a few weeks. It was unusal that they announced it right after the event happened.
Bringing THADD was a sudden movement since the pinnacle of the South Korean executive authority is vacant due to the corruption scandal. But the South Korean government and president Hwang agreed with the United States Department of Defense to establish the facilities for THAAD in somewhere in Seongju county where is the southern province of the South Korea.
Immediate and sudden deployment of THADD system in South Korea is mostly because of the North Korea’s young and desultory leader Kim Jong Un’s recent choice to treat the American military bases in Japan using four missiles. They claimed that it was just a part of military drills, but no one believed the superficial news release from North Korea. It may be the reaction of the international accusation due to their inhumane assassination or maybe because of the long-term economic sanctions which actually does not shackle them because their economy is just too weak. Although North Korea has suffered from the economic embargo and isolationism, they still developed fair missile system and nuclear weapon.
So it seems like the reason of South Korean government bringing the THAAD is very valid and reasonable because simply they do not have the capability to defend themselves from North Korea’s nuclear weapon efficiently. Because of the overwhelming power gap of the South Korean air force, carrying nuclear weapon using airplane would be effectively blocked by the South Korean Military. However, once North Korea use the nuclear weapon loading on the warhead of the missile, the game is over. There is no way to defend South Korea. Therefore, having missile defense system like THAAD is critical for South Korea to survive.
However, from the beginning when South Korea and the United States discussed the deployment of THAAD, China has claimed that THAAD in South Korea threats Chinese national interests. Also because of the recent decision that South Korea made, Chinese government ‘warned’ South Korean government that they would halt many South Korean projects ongoing in China. According to various news materials, many South Korean business has been disadvantaged by the Chinese governmental officials, and some of Lotte’s (Japanese conglomerate mainly doing business in South Korea, it is like Target or Wal-mart in South Korea) general merchandising stores.
First of all, this kind of governmental movement is invalid under the rule of the World Trade Organization. Second, bringing missile defense system is a sovereignty of South Korean government, and China has no right to interfere South Korea’s sacrosanct sovereignty because South Korea is simply not a part of China. Plus, we need to deeply look into why South Korea could not have the nuclear weapon although they have world class nuclear reactor technology. Back in the day when President Park (Father of impeached President Park) ruled South Korea, they wanted to have the nuclear weapon to cope with North Korea and potentially China or the Soviet Union. However, they chose not to have the nuclear weapon, and since that moment, the South Korean government has complied the rules of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) which North Korea did not obey. Did China follow the law? Nope. I am not going to even talk about what happened around forty years ago. Eventually, rule follower gets exposed to the threat of the nuclear weapon and desperados are standing and threatening.
Under this circumstance, as an enthusiastic alliance of the United States, the South Korean government only had one choice; brining well-proven missile defense system made in the United States. Yes, defense system.
Before we move on, let’s make it clear. THAAD is not the attacking weapon. This is the defense system of the incoming missiles such as the missiles carrying the nuclear weapon that may annihilate ten million people in Seoul, the capital. If China does not like South Korea having missile defense, are they going to be happy with South Korea having the nuclear weapon? If South Korea wants they can have the nuclear weapon within a month, but I am pretty sure China, North Korea, Russia, and even Japan would not like that.
We know that the Chinese government is not dumb, and we may need to try to understand why the Chinese government behaves irrationally in this situation. The most valid reason is that they do not want to lose their leverage in the Korean peninsula, and they are tackling as much as they can. Historically, China thought of Korea as a vassal country. However, after the WWII and Korean War, South Korea grew very well with the assistance of United States, and China lost their leverage over Southern part of the Korean peninsula. Due to the rapid economic growth, China recovered their leverage at least in the commercial sector by occupying 26.1% of total Korean exportation in 2013. It continuously decreased since 2013, but China indeed had the economic leverage over South Korea. From the perspective of the Chinese government, they wanted to increase the leverage over South Korea using economic leverage, and eventually cut the relationship between the United States and South Korea. They thought it would be successful until the moment South Korea chose to disobey Chinese authority by showing the intention: “We are just going to bring the defense system. Do whatever you want.”
Yes, the Chinese government was mad at this situation; losing their leverage in South Korea. Other than that, people say China do not like that the THAAD radar may detect all the military information of East Coast of the China. It may be the intention of the United States Army since some may think China is the upcoming main enemy of the United States. However, the United States Military does not need to establish more radar facilities to detect the Chinese military sites on the East Coast of the Chinese mainland. Satellites are already doing their works, and the radar from Okinawa is already doing their jobs. Fleets come and go through the Korean peninsula multiple times. There is no meaningful thing of establishing one more radar in the closer land to oversee China by stimulating China. It is simply not worthwhile. The intention of South Korea and the United States is very clear; defending South Korea from the threats of missiles and nuclear weapons of North Korea. If they wanted to harm the national interest of China, they would choose to develop the nuclear weapon or have the U.S. nuclear weapon in South Korea.
Often, the Korean peninsula has been forgotten by the American people. The Korean war was named as the “Forgotten War”, and Americans sometimes ignore the role of South Korea; the breakwater to protect the free world from the threat of authoritarianism and communism. And right now, things are moving pretty fast in the peninsula, but American people do not pay attention. This may be the dangerous ignorance for the national interest. In addition, it seems like the turmoils will soon be there, and China and the United States will play the major roles repeatedly. This time, as an American, when the time comes, the Americans should not “forget” the peninsula again.