Seoul, South Korea – South Korea is now free to develop any cargo-range missiles that took place last month following an agreement between US President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
But the move, announced after the May 21 summit of two White House leaders, posed new security risks to South Korea’s missile development, with some analysts worried about the potential impact on the wider region.
The South Korean military already has state-of-the-art missile technology, although previously limited to 800 km (497 miles), Daniel Bong, a researcher at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies, told Al Jazeera. The question is whether the South Korean government wants to join the exclusive club of countries with long-range missiles.
“It’s one thing not to have a chain on the development of missiles, it’s another to go all the way at the risk of going in the wrong direction with China,” Bong said.
South Korea has gone in the wrong direction with China with missiles in the past when it did agrees to deploy terminal high altitude protection (THAAD), US Missile Defense System 2017
In response, Beijing imposed punitive sanctions.
South Korean analysts close to the government, as well as officials from the Lunar Administration, claim that China understands the prospect of South Korea launching a missile guide, which Seoul described as “restoring missile sovereignty.”
But US missile programs could still cause concern for South Korea.
In August 2019, the USA withdrew From the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Agreement with Russia. Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper later suggested that the United States would seek to deploy medium-range ballistic missiles, IRBMs, in the Asia-Pacific region.
“South Korea could be a disaster if we manage our relations with neighboring countries, of course China,” Sung Ki-yang, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy, told Al Jazeera.
The key will be how far South Korea chooses with its missiles.
“By developing longer-range missiles that can reach major cities inside China, South Korea will have less resistance to the deployment of US missiles that could target China,” said Younesi Bong before clarifying. “I’m talking about nuclear missiles. »
Some worry that a loose missile development would bring China and North Korea closer together.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with North Korean Ambassador to Beijing shortly after the Biden-Moon summit.
“They have shown their family ties.… As the US-South Korea alliance strengthens, North Korea-China relations will also strengthen,” Cheong Wuk-sik, director of the Seoul Peace Network, told Al Jazeera.
The missile guidance agreement provided the United States with allegations of fraud, with continued support for UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea.
“The United States has significantly restricted, condemned, and imposed sanctions on North Korea’s missile development, so the development of South Korean missiles is a kind of double standard,” Cheong said.
Cheong believed that this was the supposed double standard, combined with the resumption of large-scale joint US-South Korean military exercises, which could see a deterioration in the security climate.
“If South Korea and the United States hold joint military exercises this summer, North Korea may respond by resuming mid-range missile tests,” Cheong said.
“Stop playing with fire”
The weakening of the missile guidelines was one of several deals by the Biden-Moon administrations in May.
The United States is also providing vaccines to 550,000 South Korean troops, ostensibly to protect the 28,500 members of the United States, while Biden supported President Moon’s initiative to make peace with North Korea, even though the moon was only nine months away. in the office.
In response, Moon was closer to the United States over China. The joint statement “emphasizes (d) the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
But some believe that what seemed like an equal compromise actually gives the United States a greater geopolitical advantage.
“The Moon Chae-in government was resold by the Biden administration, which turned out to be good at negotiating because the Moon Moon government seemed so desperate,” said Younes Bong.
President Moon is the third progressive South Korean leader to pursue peace; unification on the Korean Peninsula, after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kim De-jung; և President Roh Moo-hyun, during which President Moon served as Chief of Staff.
Recently, South Korea sought to balance Beijing’s “Washington.”
Beijing continues to influence economically. In 2003, it surpassed the United States as South Korea’s largest trading partner, now accounting for more than a quarter of its exports, more than $ 125 billion a year.
At the same time, it is the United States with its military bases, the so-called “nuclear umbrella” that guarantees South Korea’s security, while China is becoming increasingly resilient, frequently invading the exclusive economic zones of South Korea, Taiwan and the surrounding South. China Sea.
In a joint statement by Biden-Moon on the reference to the Taiwan Strait, Beijing hastened to respond. Later, his Foreign Ministry spokesman Hao Lizhyan said at the briefing.
“One excuse less”
According to the missile guidelines, Beijing has so far been somewhat muted, ային North Korea offered only a relatively moderate response. In a state media article, LM called the move “a sharp reminder of DH’s hostile US policy toward him.” embarrassing double deal»
But analysts have blamed other elements of the Biden-Moon summit for the possible resumption of joint military exercises, which North Korea sees as an invasion attempt.
South Korean peace activists have blamed war games for escalating tensions, and the Lunar Administration is trying to end joint exercises, or at least soften them, to build goodwill with Pyongyang.
But on hearing his confirmation of becoming commander of US forces in Korea, General Paul LeKamer said joint US-South Korean military exercises were “extremely necessary to build readiness” and vaccines to South Korean և US forces. “To continue the annual joint military exercises with US forces in South Korea,” said Younes Bong.
Despite the challenges, part of the Lunar administration is optimistic that the Biden summit will lead to progress in building peace in North Korea, despite the relatively lame duck status of the South Korean president.
During their briefing at the end of their visit to the White House, Biden referred to North Korea under his official name, the KH, and, more importantly, Biden introduced the North Korean special envoy, a veteran US diplomat-negotiator. Kim sang,
Moon himself suggested that the appointment showed the United States’ readiness to involve North Korea, telling lawmakers later: “Appointing a US special envoy to North Korea is tantamount to a public demand for a resumption of North Korea dialogue.”
Sung Kim is scheduled to make his first trip to Seoul.
During the five-day visit, which starts on Saturday, Kim is expected to meet with his South Korean counterparts, and will begin trilateral talks with representatives of the Japanese apony. This may be inconvenient, as Tokyo has postponed a meeting of South Korean officials at the recent G7 summit in Cornwall, և the three countries have quite different perspectives on dealing with North Korea.
The South Korean president has long been in favor of unconditional involvement, while the United States and Japan have been more supportive of Japan. hawk strategy relying on the continuation of sanctions.
As the US-China rivalry escalates, South Korea’s attempt to pursue its own plan on North Korea is likely to become more dangerous.