Defence plan sours Seoul-Beijing ties

South Korean opposition lawmaker Song Young Gil (left) meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) to discuss the planned deployment of an advanced US anti-missile system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad), in Beijing, Ch
South Korean opposition lawmaker Song Young Gil (left) meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) to discuss the planned deployment of an advanced US anti-missile system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad), in Beijing, China, on Jan 4, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

China imposes unofficial sanctions over US anti-missile system to be deployed in S. Korea

SEOUL • At least seven joint military events between South Korea and China have been cancelled since Seoul agreed last year to deploy a US anti-missile defence system on its soil, reported a newspaper yesterday.

Officials in Seoul have been increasingly vocal about Beijing imposing unofficial sanctions on South Korean businesses in retaliation against the planned deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system.

China is opposed to the deployment over concerns that Thaad's powerful radar can penetrate its territory. JoongAng Ilbo, quoting unnamed government insiders, reported yesterday that the row has also affected official military ties.

"All official interactions between the Korean and Chinese militaries came to a halt in the latter half of last year," said a source.

"This is despite the two countries signing an agreement in a ministerial meeting in 2011 to step up bilateral military cooperation, as well as an agreement at the end of 2015 to establish a hotline between the defence ministers."

Another government source listed examples of planned military exchanges which were cancelled following South Korea's decision to deploy Thaad last July. A group of trainees from a national defence college in China was supposed to visit South Korea that month, but the trip was cancelled.

Beijing also skipped the Seoul Defence Dialogue, a forum that was attended by senior military officers from 33 countries, including the US, Russia and Japan.

Last month, a group of trainees from the Republic of Korea Naval Academy was prevented from entering a port in Qingdao.

Defence Minister Han Min Koo was expected to visit China last year , but the trip did not take place, added the JoongAng Ilbo. And when North Korea conducted its fifth missile test last September, Seoul and Beijing did not hold joint military discussions over it.

Last week, South Korea's Finance Minister Yoo Il Ho accused China of taking indirect action against South Korea over the Thaad row.

"China is officially denying it, but we feel their actions are linked and that there have been indirect responses taken," Mr Yoo said last Thursday. "It's hard to ask them what they're up to when they have been denying it officially."

He did not say what he meant by "indirect action" but China recently rejected applications by South Korean carriers to add charter flights between the two countries for the Chinese New Year holiday.

South Korean media has reported that entertainment and cosmetic companies are feeling the pinch due to Beijing's apparent moves to ban cultural imports such as TV shows from the mainland market.

Hwagok-dong in western Seoul, which normally bustles with Chinese wholesalers looking for South Korean cosmetics, has become quieter. "After the Thaad dispute got tough in July, sales on the street were hit hard," a source at a wholesale store told JoongAng Ilbo. "Korean products become popular through drama and entertainment shows, and now, they're not going to get that kind of exposure."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline 'Defence plan sours Seoul-Beijing ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe