Location South Korea South Korea

US, China in talks over THAAD withdrawal

By Na Jeong-ju, Yi Whan-woo

The U.S. and China are discussing a possible withdrawal of a U.S. missile defense system from South Korea as part of a grand bargain over North Korea’s nuclear program, multiple sources familiar with the talks said.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, deployed in South Korea last year, has been a bone of contention with China. China has doubted U.S. claims that the system has the sole purpose of destroying missiles from North Korea, insisting its covert mission is to spy on Chinese airspace.

«Withdrawing the THAAD system from South Korea is part of a peace roadmap being discussed between Washington and Beijing after denuclearizing North Korea,» a source told The Korea Times. «Washington knows well that it is impossible to seek deals with the North without cooperation from China. And China wants the U.S. to get rid of the THAAD system from South Korea.»

Another source said the THAAD system in South Korea is among China’s bargaining chips in seeking resolution of the North Korea nuclear problem.

«China has a priority list in negotiating with the U.S. On top of the list is removing the THAAD system from South Korea,» the source said. «The next priority is to make the U.S. withdraw its troops from South Korea, but it knows this is an unrealistic demand that the U.S. can never accept.»

The source said the U.S. instead may suggest reducing the number of its troops stationed in South Korea to satisfy China.

Chung Eui-yong, head of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s security team who is currently visiting Washington, is expected to discuss these issues with U.S. officials, the source said. Cheong Wa Dae, however, denied the existence of any of these negotiations between the U.S. and China.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been disgruntled with cost-sharing for the upkeep of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), ordered the Pentagon to consider scaling down the size of the force.

However, both the Pentagon and Cheong Wa Dae denied the report.

As the U.S. is gearing up for the planned summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over denuclearizing the North, China, for its part, is taking steps to strengthen coordination with the North.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Kim in Pyongyang, Thursday, apparently as a special envoy of President Xi Jinping.

President Moon said after a historic summit with Kim at the truce village of Panmunjeom last week that he expects the U.S. and North Korea, along with South Korea, to be able to declare an end to the Korean War after the Trump-Kim meeting. If this is done, the next step is to sign a peace treaty among the two Koreas, the U.S. and China.

«China is an important part of a peace roadmap on the Korean Peninsula after denuclearization. However, this is not possible if the North renegade on its denuclearization commitment,» a Moon aide said.

Meanwhile, Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to President Moon Jae-in on security and foreign affairs, took back his claim early this week that the U.S. would pull out its troops if a peace treaty is signed to formally end the Korean War.

In his contributed article published by U.S. magazine Foreign Affairs, Monday, he wrote, «What will happen to U.S. forces in South Korea if a peace treaty is signed? It will be difficult to justify their continuing presence in South Korea after its adoption.»

However, Moon said this article was misunderstood, saying he supports the USFK presence in South Korea.

«I am someone who is for (the USFK’s stationing),» Moon, who is visiting the U.S., told reporters in Washington, D.C., Thursday. «I think the USFK’s continued presence is desirable for the strategic stability of Northeast Asia and our own domestic political stability, even after a peace treaty is signed.»

North Korean leader Kim reportedly did not ask for withdrawal of the 23,500 U.S. troops stationed in the South as a pre-condition for a possible treaty.

Sources say this irked China which views the USFK as a big obstacle to its challenge against U.S. dominance in East Asia.

Moon Chung-in, citing former U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger, said the issues on whether to keep the USFK must be raised «naturally» if the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized, a peace treaty is signed and U.S.-North Korea relations are normalized.

«He also said the U.S. will still keep its military in the South if Seoul wants to do so and added internal consensus will be critical,» Moon said.


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