BEIJING: China lodged protests with US and South Korean ambassadors on Friday over their countries’ decision to deploy an American missile defense system to counter threats from North Korea, a move Beijing said would damage regional security.
The deployment of the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system announced by Washington and Seoul would “will severely undermine regional strategic security and disrupt the strategic balance,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
“We strongly urge the US and the Republic of Korea to halt the deployment process,” he said, adding that Beijing “has launched solemn representations with their ambassadors,” without giving any more details.
The move would not aid the “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula, he added.
China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and has been its key diplomatic protector for decades.
But relations have soured over Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and long-range missile launches, with Beijing supporting UN sanctions.
Still, analysts say Beijing is concerned over any build up of US power on its doorstep and values Pyongyang as a strategic bulwark, while worrying THAAD could undermine its nuclear deterrent.
Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the importance of “friendly relations” to a visiting North Korean official last month, even after the envoy reportedly told Chinese officials Pyongyang would continue with its internationally condemned nuclear program.
The US and South Korea began talks on deploying the THAAD system to the Korean peninsula in February, when the North launched a long-range rocket following a fourth nuclear test in January.
They announced Friday that they had agreed to install it.
Separately, Washington this week imposed sanctions on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, calling him directly responsible for a long list of serious human rights abuses.
China condemned the move, with Hong telling a briefing Thursday that it opposed “public pressure, confrontation and one country’s imposing unilateral sanctions on another country by citing domestic laws.”
From Moscow: Also on Friday, Russia warned that the US deployment of an advanced missile defense system in South Korea would have “irreparable consequences,” echoing warnings by China of a threat to regional security.
“The United States, supported by its partners, are continuing to build up the potential of the Asia-Pacific segment of the global anti-missile defense system, which undermines the established strategic balance in the (region) and beyond,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
These actions “most negatively affect global strategic stability,” the statement said, following the announcement by the US and South Korea that they would deploy the system to thwart potential attacks from North Korea.
China and Russia have been saying for months that the THAAD is unnecessary and would tip the balance of power in the Pacific towards the United States.
China on Friday said the system would “seriously damage the strategic security interests of countries in the region” and urged to stop the deployment process.