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    U.S. missile defense system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, is seen at a golf course in Seongju, South Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017

    Can China, South Korea Maintain Cooperative Relations Despite THAAD Presence?

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    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha. Political observers told Sputnik that the meeting laid the ground for proper talks between the leaders of the two states, which will be the first after the cooling of China-South Korea relations following the deployment of the US THAAD missile defense system.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping had already met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the APEC summit in Vietnam. In the middle of December, the two leaders are set to meet again.

    According to Andrei Karneev, deputy director of the Institute for Asian and African Affairs at Moscow State University, considering the increasingly complicated situation surrounding the North Korean nuclear program, the normalization of relations between Beijing and Seoul is a positive step for the region and is desirable for both sides.

    The director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Geopolitical Economics at Jilin University, Ba Dianjun, in an interview with Sputnik said, “As for the most recent changes in relations between China and South Korea, on the one hand, the sides are interested in cooperation to solve the problem of the Korean Peninsula; on the other hand, I am rather cautious about the excessive optimism expressed about the development of China-South Korean relations. South Korea made promises, but the question is will it be able to stick to them in the long run.”

    He stressed that the THAAD system is still present in South Korea and is operated by the United States, so it is necessary to observe and see how South Korea can ensure that this system does not threaten China’s security.

    “The second point is the promise that the cooperation of South Korea, the United States and Japan will not turn into a trilateral military alliance,” the political observer said.

    However, between Japan and South Korea there are already agreements on cooperation in the sphere of intelligence. Similar agreements have been made between the United States and Japan. 

    According to Dianjun, US President Donald Trump recently unveiled the Indo-Pacific strategy and a similar statement of cooperation was released by both the US and South Korea, which in fact is an endorsement of the strategy, and the US-South Korean alliance is an important part of this strategy.

    “If we consider the Indo-Pacific strategy as an extension of Obama's Asia-Pacific strategy, then we can reasonably suspect that this is nothing more than a formal oral declaration, although the governments and peoples of the two countries demonstrate a desire for cooperation,” Dianjun said.

    Nevertheless, other experts believe that cooperation is still possible, and Tokyo can join the efforts of Seoul and Beijing to resolve the problems on the Korean Peninsula. Dianjun considers tripartite cooperation desirable, but also calls for refraining from excessive optimism.

    “China, Japan and South Korea are influential states in the region. On the one hand, the three states have a need for cooperation – the common strategic orientation of the three countries is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But, on the other hand, each country has needs to defend its own interests. If in a tripartite cooperation they proceed from common interests, this will be a step in the right direction. But if they come only from their own interests, this will inevitably cause disagreement,” the Chinese expert said.

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    strategy, bilateral relations, cooperation, interview, THAAD missile defense system, South Korea
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