South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on October 7 that “the only concern” Beijing has regarding the October 16 White House summit between President Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye is a possible discussion of “deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in the South.” Yonhap quoted Chinese professor Cheng Xiaohe of Renmin University as stating, at a recent seminar at Johns Hopkins University, that “China’s government explicitly opposed the implementation of THAAD systems on the Korean peninsula no matter in the U.S. military base or on the ROK’s military base.” The message is loud and clear: Beijing does not want a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) deployment in South Korea and is hoping that its new “charm” offensive to win over President Park can trump any considerations for her as a U.S. treaty ally.
Professor Cheng noted that China perceives a THAAD deployment as not only a threat to its military activities on its territory but also as an effort to further strengthen the military-to-military ties among the United States, Japan, and South Korea which “Beijing has long opposed.”
This, of course, raises the question: What is an alliance for if not for allies to cooperate? Beijing is reportedly concerned that President Park will seek to balance her recent attendance at Beijing’s rather bombastic World War II victory parade by ceding to Washington’s interest in THAAD deployment.
The old axiom that “a picture is worth a thousand words” seems to apply here. The recent photo from Tiananmen Square showing Park Geun-hye standing alongside China’s President Xi Jinping, clad in a modified Mao jacket, and Russia’s bullying leader Vladimir Putin certainly raised eyebrows in Washington, as did the fact that these VIPs stood on a dais above a large portrait of that same Mao Zedong who ordered China's "People’s Volunteer Army” forces into Korea in October 1950, thus preventing the unification of the peninsula under Seoul’s administration.
For those who value human rights, the scene of columns of rolling tanks and marching PLA troops also brought an eerie reminder of a June night in 1989 when the Goddess of Democracy was toppled and hundreds of workers and students were gunned down in or near Tiananmen Square. Park was the only U.S. ally in sight at the parade, which had a chauvinistic and militarist flavor reminiscent of Soviet May Day parades in Red Square.
The “Don’t Mess with China” message was sent, according to the Telegraph , via the display of “a new missile reportedly capable of destroying an aircraft carrier.” And which nation deploys aircraft carriers to Pacific waters, even sending a carrier strike group into the Yellow Sea in 2010 as a show of support after the torpedoing by North Korea of a South Korean military vessel followed by the shelling of a South Korean island? That would be Seoul’s treaty ally, the United States. Meanwhile, in the U.N. Security Council, China effectively blocked Seoul’s efforts to designate North Korea as the perpetrator of the torpedo attack on the Cheonan which killed 46 South Korean sailors.
So why would South Korea’s president travel to the recent Beijing parade? Seoul has put forward the explanation that, as a middle power, it can effectively assist in diffusing tensions between Beijing and Washington over China as a rising power. It also hopes to act as a conduit for opening further development in some of northeast Asia’s more backward regions in and adjacent to North Korea. Then there is the elusive dream in Seoul that Xi Jinping will eventually grow weary of his troublesome North Korea ally and lend a sympathetic ear to South Korean plans for a peaceful, Seoul-centered reunification of the peninsula. And some in South Korea have asserted that an indigenous system, the Korean Air and Missile Defense System (KAMD), could equally meet South Korea’s defense needs (many other analysts dispute this) while avoiding being caught between Washington and Beijing. This concern over being put in the middle only increased following Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan’s February visit to Seoul. Chang reportedly made Beijing’s unhappiness over a potential THAAD deployment in Korea perfectly clear to his South Korean counterpart.