(AA) – A senior U.S. diplomat has described China’s opposition to the possible deployment of an American missile defense system in South Korea as “curious,” local media reported Tuesday.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel had earlier met with a South Korean counterpart in Seoul, a day after Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Jianchao openly expressed Beijing’s “concerns and worries” about the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).
The system, which has been a controversial issue even among South Korean lawmakers, could in theory allow Washington to spy on China from South Korea.
But Russel told reporters that in the face of a “significant threat” from North Korea, “our military authorities have a responsibility to consider [defensive] systems.”
Despite there being nearly 30,000 U.S. military personnel stationed on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, Seoul and Washington have denied actually making any decision on THAAD or even officially discussing it.
“I find it curious that a third country would presume to make strong representations about a security system that has not been put in place and that is still a matter of theory,” South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted Russel as saying.
Any concerns Washington has regarding Beijing’s power over Seoul policymakers may been alleviated by comments out of the South Korean defense ministry.
“Neighbors… should not try to influence our security policy,” ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters Tuesday.
Another lingering question is whether South Korea will become a founding member of China’s alternative to the U.S.-led Asian Development Bank.
Russel said Beijing should put forward “unmistakable evidence” that it will meet world development bank governance standards.
China has been putting pressure on Seoul to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank before a deadline set for the end of this month — representing a dilemma for South Korea in choosing between its longstanding military ally and a vital economic partner.
A further issue mentioned by Russel was that of the strained relationship between South Korea and Japan — both of whom have close ties to the U.S.
The visiting diplomat described tensions stemming from Tokyo’s twentieth century colonization of the Korean Peninsula as a “strategic liability.”
There was some hope of forward movement Tuesday as the foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and China are set to hold trilateral talks for the first time in three years this Saturday, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.
Since taking office two years ago, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has refused to consent to an official bilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.