Controversies surrounding the installation of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in the Republic of Korea took a dramatic turn soon after Moon Jae-in was elected ROK president last week. On May 12, two days after the election result was declared, the ruling Minjoo Party said it will push for a parliamentary hearing on the illegal transportation and cost of the controversial deployment of the US anti-missile system on ROK soil, rekindling hopes that the decision made by the administration of the impeached and ousted former president Park Geun-hye could be reversed, or at least reviewed.
Moon had made it clear on his campaign trail that he did not support the deployment of THAAD in the ROK. A possible policy change on the issue, which is understandable for a country in political transition, can help it drop the political baggage left behind by Park, which has created a controversy both at home and abroad.
Since Park agreed last year to deploy the US anti-missile system, hardly has a day passed without ROK citizens criticizing the decision. On April 26, when part of the THAAD battery, including radar, was transported to a golf course in southeastern ROK, it ignited strong protests from local residents and peace activists.
Apparently, if Moon can put THAAD's deployment on hold, it would help bridge the existing social divide over the issue. On the diplomatic front, the move could also be seen as conciliatory by China.
While the United States and the ROK insisted that THAAD is intended to protect the ROK against possible missile attacks by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, China was justified in lodging a strong protest against the move, as the THAAD radar, which has a potential radius of 2,000 kilometers, could also be used to spy on China, and thus undermines China's security interests.
Moon’s election has presented a good opportunity to undo the damage caused by the ROK’ s decision to deploy THAAD and put bilateral ties back on the right track
As the US and the ROK insisted on going ahead with THAAD's deployment, China-ROK ties plummeted to almost their lowest level since the two countries forged formal diplomatic relations 25 years ago. This worrying trend cannot be allowed to further worsen as it would compromise the achievements made by the two neighbors because of their friendly and mutually beneficial ties.
Fortunately, Moon's election has presented a good opportunity to undo the damage caused by the ROK' s decision to deploy THAAD and put bilateral ties back on the right track.
President Xi Jinping was among the first world leaders to talk with Moon over the phone after his election victory. Xi said he hoped the new ROK government would attach great importance to the major concerns of China and take tangible actions for the healthy, stable development of bilateral ties.
The major concern of China apparently refers to the deployment of THAAD. In response Moon said the new ROK government will communicate with China over the issue and make efforts to seek a proper resolution to it. Following last week's conversation over the phone between the two leaders, bilateral communication and exchanges have improved. In fact, a ROK delegation, led by Park Byeong-seug, a veteran politician with close ties to Moon, attended the two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing which concluded on Monday.
Xi met the delegation on the sidelines of the forum and told Park that friendly bilateral relations are very important for maintaining peace in the region and beyond.
Thanks to the positive exchanges between Beijing and Seoul, bilateral ties seem to be moving back on track, which is beneficial to both sides as well as the region and beyond. Continuously rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula shows the different sides are using military means to counter security threats, with THAAD being a prime case in point, which will only deepen hostility and shrink the space for diplomatic mediation. It is hoped the new ROK government will show political wisdom and correct the wrong decision of the previous government.
The author is a senior writer with China Daily.