China says understands South Korean need for security, still opposes missiles

BEIJING (Reuters) - China understands South Korea’s need to protect its security but Seoul still needs to respect Beijing’s concerns about the deployment of an advanced U.S. anti-missile system, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his South Korean counterpart.

FILE PHOTO - A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

China has repeatedly expressed opposition to South Korea’s planned deployment later this year of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, which Seoul and Washington say is needed to defend against North Korea.

China worries the system’s powerful radar can penetrate its territory and it has objected to the deployment.

Meeting on Saturday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Wang repeated to South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se China’s opposition to THAAD, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

Wang “stressed that one country’s security should not be founded on the basis of harming another country’s security”, the ministry paraphrased him as saying.

“China understands South Korea’s need to protect its own security, and at the same time South Korea should respect China’s reasonable position,” Wang added.

Yun Fu Ying, chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee in the Chinese National People’s Congress, told a panel discussion at the Munich conference that China could not understand Washington’s decision to deploy the system to South Korea.

“It is like being stabbed by your friends,” she said, adding the system would not increase South Korea’s security anyway.

But Yun Byung-se told the panel the system was needed to augment Seoul’s existing Patriot missile defense system and guard against the kind of high-arc shot used by North Korea in its last test.

“What we need is multiple layers of defense ... THAAD is really relevant,” he said. “We don’t pose any threat to China.”

Yun Byung-se said North Korea launched two nuclear tests and 24 missiles last year alone and was nearing the final stage of nuclear weaponization.

“In our analysis, the tipping point may be only a few years away,” he told conference participants. “It’s a ticking time bomb.”

Wang told Yun Byung-se that efforts to seek peace with North Korea should not be abandoned, the ministry said.

“All parties, at the same time as strictly enforcing (U.N.) Security Council resolutions, should proactively look for break through points to resume negotiations, to break the negative cycle of the nuclear issue on the peninsula,” Wang said.

North and South Korea are technically still at war because their 1950-1953 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North regularly threatens to destroy the South and the South’s main ally, the United States.

Earlier this month, North Korea tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile, its first direct challenge to the international community since U.S. President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20.

China says it is committed to enforcing U.N. sanctions against its unpredictable neighbor, whose nuclear and missile tests have angered Beijing.

China will suspend all imports of coal from North Korea starting Feb. 19, the country’s commerce ministry said on Saturday, as part of its efforts to implement United Nations sanctions against the country.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Mark Potter