The recent decision to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea has angered China. THAAD is an anti-ballistic missile system designed to destroy missiles during their Terminal Phase. The system cannot shoot down ballistic missiles in the boost phase and therefore would not be able to shoot down missiles launched from China headed towards the U.S. So Why is China so ticked off? In an article by The National Interest, “This is Why China Fears THAAD”, Sungtae Jacky Park sheds light on some the possibilities.
China questions why the US and South Korea want to deploy THAAD, an expensive system that only protects against missiles at altitudes between 40 and 150 kms; a single THAAD battery costs about $827.6 million. The Chinese argue that deploying the system would be an imprudent and exorbitant investment and overkill because Seoul is so close to North Korea. Even a former United States Forces Korea commander, while supporting the deployment of THAAD, noted that “the best way to deliver a nuclear weapon to Seoul today is in the belly of an airplane” or even drones, if the North Koreans are able to improve their unmanned technology. Drones, in particular, could easily reach the South without being detected by air defenses. Three North Korean drones flew over Seoul undetected and took photos of the South Korean presidential residence in 2014; the South Koreans only found out because the drones crashed on their way back to the North. North Korea might not need a missile to drop nuclear bombs on South Korea, although Washington and Seoul have every reason to deploy an array of systems to protect their citizens against different threats from the North. […]
[…] Beijing also fears that THAAD is a step in the US plan to encircle China with an interlinked set of missile defense systems that runs from Japan to Taiwan and even India. From the Chinese perspective, whether a regional missile defense network, under today’s circumstances, would be useful against China is irrelevant. The Chinese have great respect for the ability of the US to innovate. Beijing has to take into account the possibility that technology could improve, that more missile defense systems could be deployed throughout the region, and that they could be reoriented and reconfigured toward any other country besides North Korea. Even if THAAD were not aimed at China today, intentions can change quickly. The Chinese remember that after decades of hostility toward communist China, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger initiated a surprise opening to Beijing to end the Vietnam War and to contain the Soviet Union, only to treat China as a competitor later. Beijing does not trust Washington or its stated goodwill and fears that a regional missile defense network could emerge in Asia to be directed against China.
A regional missile defense network could complicate China’s ability to threaten or defend against US and allied assets in the region. The Chinese see forward-deployed US assets as having offensive purposes. A former Chinese admiral said once that U.S. naval presence near China is akin to “a man with a criminal record wandering just outside the gate of a family home.” Beijing fears that a regional missile defense network could provide a shield for US assets in the region, allowing the United States to threaten China more easily; a tactically defensive system could be used for strategically offensive objectives. […]
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