South Korea has said it will consider allowing the U.S. to station a ballistic missile defense system on its territory after North Korea announced that it had launched a long-range rocket over the weekend. The move could transform geopolitics in the wider region, as South Korea has been wary to allow the U.S. defense system out of concern that it could raise eyebrows in China, Bloomberg reported.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, known as THAAD, targets high-altitude missiles. Deployment of the system is likely to prompt concerns in China of an increased U.S. presence in the region and that Japan could consider using its own similar technology. Beijing for decades has been suspicious of Japan’s role in the region. The system would be deployed at U.S. bases in South Korea, where about 29,000 American soldiers are stationed.
Chinese officials said Monday that they are "deeply concerned" over the news.
“The Chinese are doing anything possible to head off what they think might be a potential weapon that could be used against them,” said Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, Bloomberg reported. “You can say everything you want, that this is not directed against the Chinese, but the fact of the matter is, it potentially could be.”
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U.S. officials likely hope that discussions over the deployment of the defense technology will push China into taking a more proactive role reining in North Korea. China continues to export considerable energy and food to North Korea, and the U.S. has called on China to cut off trade. The U.S. has sought to ease concerns over THAAD in the region by emphasizing that it would be purely defensive and focused against North Korea.
North Korea fired a long-range rocket Sunday that U.S. officials said could potentially be used to fire a nuclear warhead. The U.N. voted during an emergency session following the launch to condemn the nation. The news comes as many countries are already on heightened alert after North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb last month. U.S. officials do not believe North Korea's claim.
“There will eventually be a sanctions resolution,” the diplomat said. “China wants any steps to be measured, but it wants the council to send a clear message to [North Korea] that it must comply with council resolutions.”
There is no set timetable for talks over the deployment of THAAD.