Since South Korea decided to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defence system in 2016, Sino–South Korean relations have been strained. Beijing has levied unofficial economic sanctions and diplomatic pressures on Seoul with the hope that it will withdraw THAAD. China strongly believes that the deployment of THAAD on the Peninsula will undermine its deterrence capabilities against outside powers — especially the United States.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in in May 2017 ordered a probe into the unannounced arrival of four THAAD launchers in South Korea, raising questions over the government’s position on the controversial defence system. But there are at least three reasons why South Korea will not withdraw THAAD easily.
One is Seoul’s relationship with the United States. THAAD has become a new litmus test of the US–South Korean alliance. Although President Moon has said that he would like to say ‘no’ to the United States, THAAD might be the last item on that list.
Second, there is the bureaucratic establishment in the Moon administration that supported THAAD. Moon will have to work through many different South Korean bureaucracies — especially in the military — to run the government effectively. Withdrawing THAAD might damage his relations with elements in these bureaucracies and thereby damage his government’s efficacy.
Please click here to read the full “THAAD is no easy withdrawal for Moon” article in the East Asia Forum by Griffith Asia Institute Member, Professor Kai He.