China has shunned a security dialogue in Seoul amid a row over South Korea’s decision to host a US missile defence system.
Hwang Jae-ho, an adviser for the Seoul Defence Dialogue, said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system could be the reason China did not send officials to the event which ends on Friday.
Beijing objects to the deployment of the anti-missile system saying its radar would allow the United States to peer deep into China’s backyard. Seoul and Washington argue the system is needed to counter security threats posed by North Korea.
Although several mainland researchers are attending the forum, the lack of participation by Chinese officials signalled Beijing would maintain a hard line over the issue, Hwang said. China has taken part in the dialogue since 2014, joining defence officials from dozens of countries and organisations to discuss regional security. This round of talks covers North Korea’s ballistic missile launches as well as maritime disputes involving the US, China and Japan.
The Chinese defence ministry usually replies to the invitation a few days before the talks begin, but no response has been given to South Korea.
Last year, Major General Xue Guoan headed a six-person delegation, including Colonel Lu Yin and Zhang Tuosheng, director of research and a senior fellow at the China Foundation for International Strategic Studies.
Three Chinese scholars are taking part this year – law expert Zhang Xinjun from Tsinghua University, international relations expert Shi Yinhong from Renmin University, and US affairs expert Teng Jianqun from the China Institute of International Studies.
During the Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou on Monday, President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s opposition to the THAAD system in talks with his South Korean counterpart, Park Geun-hye.
Xi said mishandling the issue was not conducive to stability in the region and could intensify disputes.
A Xinhua commentary said the deployment would lead to a “new arms race”, echoing Russia’s view.
The system, with radars that cover 4,000km, is capable of viewing Chinese operations over the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea in greater detail.
Lee Kyu-tae, an expert on geopolitics at South Korea’s Catholic Kwandong University, said the THAAD deployment was triggering a trilateral power game.
“No official and no responses from China for the security dialogue should not be interpreted as freezing relations between China and South Korea. Rather, it’s a sign that China wants South Korea to give in,” Lee said. “But facing threats from the North, South Korea has no alternatives except to rely on the US.”
Hwang added: “If South Korea wants to thaw the freezing relations with China, it has to make diplomatic efforts.”