Michael Flynn and his South Korean counterpart have reaffirmed plans to deploy the THAAD missile defense system over Beijing’s objections. The Korea Times reports:
The two reached the agreement during a meeting in Washington, Monday, according to Kim. The meeting focused on ways to move bilateral relations forward and how to deal with North Korea with Donald Trump scheduled to take office as the U.S. president, Jan. 20.
“The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is purely a defense system,” Kim told South Korean reporters there, Tuesday. “The deployment is part of our self-defense measures. As this is an issue pertaining to our sovereignty, we won’t care even if China opposes it. The two countries reached consensus on making sure to deploy it as agreed and we will go ahead as planned.”
As we wrote in November, the Chinese have been carefully watching since Trump’s election for any clue to his thinking on THAAD, which they considered a “weather vane” for how he will approach Asian security. Now they have their answer.
More broadly, Flynn’s affirmation of the deployment plans is an early sign of continuity from the Trump team. For all the doubts raised by Trump on the campaign trail about U.S. security relationships in Asia, his transition team has been working to reassure allies that previous commitments will stand. That reassurance will come as welcome news in a region that is increasingly unnerved by China’s assertive maneuvers and other destabilizing developments, not least of which is the chaotic leadership vacuum unleashed by South Korea’s presidential impeachment scandal.
China, of course, will be none too pleased that THAAD will proceed as planned; Beijing views the program as a cloaked effort to spy on China’s own missile activities. China has already registered its displeasure through official channels and thinly veiled retaliatory measures, like slapping new restrictions on South Korean airlines and flying ten Chinese military planes into South Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone. Beijing is likely to step up its retaliation in the days to come as it seeks to punish South Korea and test U.S. resolve.