China and South Korea end stand-off over missile defense

Amid ongoing tensions over North Korea’s missile tests, China and South Korea have ended their year-long dispute over the stationing of the US missile defensive system THAAD in South Korea. Both sides’ foreign ministries declared that they wanted to return to “normal” diplomatic relations on October 31. South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in and China’s state and party leader Xi Jinping plan to meet on the sidelines of the APEC meeting this Friday (November 10) in Vietnam.

South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha told the South Korean parliament on November 6 that Seoul no longer planned to add further THAAD installations beyond the existing six launchers and one radar system. South Korea also assured China that it would not join a planned networked regional missile defense shield under US leadership.

The installation of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system had angered China, as the system’s radar could reach deep into Chinese territory. South Korea’s decision to install it had triggered harsh economic retaliation against South Korean businesses in China and curbs of Chinese tourism to South Korea. 

The rapprochement shortly before US President Donald Trump’s visit to South Korea and China can be interpreted as a signal that China attempts to change the balance of power between China and the United States in the region by drawing its regional neighbors on its side.