South Korean Presient Moon Jae-in (L) seen opposite Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photos: Wikipedia
South Korean Presient Moon Jae-in (L) seen opposite Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photos: Wikipedia

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday made what a local newspaper termed “a last-ditch” effort to settle a row with China over a US antimissile system, in an interview with China’s state-run TV station.

Korea JoongAng Daily quoted Moon as asking Beijing to “walk a mile” in Seoul’s shoes to understand its position. Moon is arriving in Beijing on Wednesday for a state visit in which a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile system deployed in South Korea is expected be a major topic of discussion.

“Korea and China each has a different position on the THAAD issue,” Moon said in an interview aired by China’s state-run CCTV on Monday night. “We need to use the wisdom to walk a mile in each other’s shoes and take time to address a problem that cannot be resolved instantly.”

The 30-minute interview, conducted on Friday at the Blue House, was reportedly aired Monday night. Moon is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday.

Xi and Moon informally agreed to normalize ties that were damaged by a flap over THAAD when they met in mid-November during the APEC meeting in Danang, Vietnam.

Seoul now says it will not accept any additional US THAAD batteries and that it won’t participate with the US in a regional missile defense network. It also says it won’t join the US and Japan in a trilateral military alliance.

China, in return, is easing the economic retaliations it imposed on South Korea over THAAD.

Beijing has objected to the THAAD deployment because it contends the system’s powerful radar can spy on Chinese territory.

Differing interpretations of THAAD agreement?

Patricia M. Kim, a Stanton Nuclear Fellow with the Council on Foreign relations in Washington, said in an earlier interview with Asia Times that Beijing and Seoul may have differing interpretations of what they informally agreed to over THAAD. Kim specializes in Chinese foreign policy and Korean security issues.

“The “three no’s” were portrayed in the Chinese press as new commitments made by South Korea. But as the ROK’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has clarified, these weren’t promises but statements of long-standing South Korean government policies,” Kim told Asia Times. “They weren’t concessions on South Korea’s part — at least from Seoul’s point of view— though they were presented as such in the Chinese media.”

“I think these different perceptions on the ‘three no’s’ could come back to haunt Seoul at some point by setting expectations very high in Beijing that Seoul will never engage in these activities,” Kim added. “And anything can be interpreted as a ‘violation’ of the stated policy.”

Kim noted, for instance, that South Korea did not commit to refrain from trilateral cooperation with the US and Japan, only not to enter into a trilateral alliance. She also cautioned that Beijing could call out Seoul for working closely with the US and Japan in the future and point to the “three no’s” as grounds for its complaint.

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