Beijing v. Seoul
China Threatens South Korea Over THAAD Deployment

Beijing has been protesting nonstop since the U.S. and South Korea agreed to move ahead with the deployment of the advanced THAAD anti-missile system in response to North Korean aggression. Now, state media organ Xinhua suggests that China has a new plan to hurt South Korea:

Last month, South Korea and the United States agreed to house one THAAD battery in its southeastern county of Seongju by the end of next year despite strong oppositions from neighboring countries.

The THAAD’s X-band radar can snoop on Chinese and Russian territories, breaking a strategic balance in the region and damaging security interests of China and Russia.

Seoul’s move to join the U.S. Pivot to Asia strategy to contain China and Russia will not only have negative military, diplomatic effect on the region as arms race is expected, but also negatively affect trade between China and South Korea, which is already faced with downside risks at home and abroad.

South Korean exports, which account for about half of the export-driven economy, declined 10.2 percent in July from a year earlier. It was the longest monthly fall in history for 19 months in a row.

The country’s exports to China, the world’s second-largest economy, slumped 9.3 percent over the year in July. China takes up about a quarter of South Korea’s total overseas shipments.

It’s not stated as such, but the source of this “analysis” means it will be read as a threat in Seoul. South Korea’s economy is indeed highly dependent on China, not only for trade but also for tourism. In May alone, 758,000 Chinese travelers visited South Korea according to official statistics. The next closest national group were Japanese tourists, and they numbered just over 180,000.

The rest of the Xinhua piece is a catalog of supposed recent bad news for South Korea—bad trade numbers, rising unemployment, slowing private consumption. But it’s pretty much all spin, and the article alleges consequences for President Park Geun-hye that simply don’t hold up:

Growing joblessness may result in President Park Geun-hye’s political risk as the region is a traditional political home turf for President Park as well as the ruling Saenuri Party.

Park’s approval rating turned downward in North Gyeongsang province, where the U.S. missile defense battery is sited. The region is also a political home ground for President Park.

There’s no evidence that THAAD’s deployment is in-and-of-itself causing political trouble for Park, and there’s no evidence that unemployment (which stands, in the province Xinhua mentions at 3.6 percent) is about to bring her down either. To be sure, if China were to cut South Korea off, it might change the economic situation and complicate the lives of politicians in Seoul. But the overriding reality is that South Koreans feel threatened by North Korea and let down by China, which hasn’t been able to do anything to restrain Pyongyang. If China takes aggressive action to limit trade and tourism, South Koreans are as likely to feel more angry at Beijing than not—to rally around the flag and support politicians like Park who stand up to China.

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