China and South Korea’s foreign ministries released coordinated statements at the end of last month announcing they would move to repair their once fast-improving relationship.
Back in 2016 – after the United States and South Korea decided that U.S. Forces Korea would deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense shield system in South Korea – relations between Beijing and Seoul fell off a cliff.
China unofficially sanctioned South Korean firms, including Lotte, the conglomerate that would eventually cede land to the South Korean government in the country’s south to allow for a deployment of the missile system. Chinese tourism to South Korea came to a near standstill. Altogether, the sanctions over THAAD cost South Korea billions of dollars.
Now, seemingly out of the blue, both sides have decided that enough is enough.
Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, to kick off a new period of detente between the two countries.
What really happened here? Did China simply cut its losses over THAAD?
For Beijing, the U.S. deployment of THAAD was never about the missile interceptors. Rather, Beijing has long expressed open concern – even through its foreign minister – about the powerful X-band AN/TPY-2 radar that accompanies the THAAD system.
The Chinese fear is that this radar could be linked to other theaters and homeland missile defense systems and degrade the PLA Rocket Force’s ability to carry out a nuclear second strike in a war against the United States.