South Korea dismisses China warning on US missile system

South Korean protesters during a rally against the government's military policy in Seoul on Feb 16, 2016.
South Korean protesters during a rally against the government's military policy in Seoul on Feb 16, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea dismissed China's warning that the planned deployment of a US missile defence system could damage ties, stressing that it was to counter "growing threats" from North Korea.

"The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system (THAAD) is a measure of self-defence against growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea," presidential spokesman Jeong Yeon Guk said on Wednesday (Feb 24)

Jeong said the issue would be "decided in accordance with security and national interests", adding that "China will have to recognise the point".

The remarks came after Chinese ambassador Qiu Guohong warned Tuesday that installation of the THAAD system on the Korean Peninsula could "destroy" relations between Beijing and Seoul.

Qiu, in a meeting with Kim Jong In, the leader of opposition Minju party, also warned that it would be "hard" to mend the ties once damaged, the party spokesman said Tuesday.

China has repeatedly protested since Washington and Seoul announced plans to deploy the missile defence in the South, in response to North Korea's recent nuclear test and rocket launch.

But Tuesday was the first time that a Chinese diplomat or official has warned of the effect on diplomatic ties with Seoul.

South Korea's foreign ministry summoned Qiu to make him clarify the comment, Yonhap news agency said, citing a ministry official.

"Qiu sincerely clarified the circumstances around the meeting (with Kim)... and what he actually said then," the official quoted by Yonhap said without elaborating further.

The THAAD system fires anti-ballistic missiles to smash into enemy missiles either inside or outside the earth's atmosphere during their final flight phase.

The interceptor missiles carry no warheads, instead relying on kinetic energy to destroy their targets.

The allies announced their intention to begin talks on its deployment following Pyongyang's long-range rocket launch on Feb 7, which was seen by the US and its allies as a covert ballistic missile test.

South Korea's defence ministry said it expects official talks on THAAD to begin next week.