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South Korea’s deployment of THAAD upsets China, seen as espionage tool (arstechnica.com)
44 points by jcbeard on Apr 21, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

China has only themselves to blame. They've let their little client state (North Korea) get out of control to the point where they have nukes and have made threats of using them. If they didn't want a nuclear arms race amongst their neighbors, they should have taken appropriate action years ago.

Yeah it's hard to feel sorry for them. They let this situation happen. This is an anti ballistic missile system, used to stop the very ballistic missiles NK is trying to launch. What did China honestly expect to happen? SK just leave itself open to attack?

NK doesn't need ballistic missiles to attack SK. Artillery itself is enough to level Seoul to the ground.

DPRK artillery destroying Seoul with lightning speed is practically a meme at this point. I've been hearing it for decades and I find it hard to believe South Korea and the US with 10s of thousands of troops have no contingency plan and no rapid response for DPRK artillery fire on Seoul.

The NYTimes The Daily podcast this week had an interesting explanation of this situation.

N. Korea is not really a a proxy state, the best you can call it is a rogue proxy state. It's not like it doesn't extort China too. It knows China doesn't want instability on it's border. Funnily enough the rest of the world thinks China can snap it's fingers and get the situation fixed up. The rest of the world is perplexed why it's not happening.

The analogy they made is to Israel. The whole world thinks that Israel is a proxy of the US. The rest of the world doesn't understand why the U.S just can't get Israel to stop building settlements. In fact when the U.S makes a public stink about it, Israel builds new settlements out of spite.

So the term is ... rogue proxy.

I believe this is the episode: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/17/podcasts/the-daily/north-... . Not a 100% sure about it, since I listened to it in my podcast feed and just did a search for it.

The last time the USA tried to build a ballistic missile defence system, Ukraine got invaded and split into two (if not officially, at least practically). Turns out that when big powerful countries start feeling a bit squeezed, they create buffer zones. By invading a neighbour.

Not trying to make up excuses for any of the parties involved here. Just pointing out that China likely won't sit on its ass as this happens.

The only silver lining I see is that maybe this will provide China with the incentive to just throw Kim under the bus (literally under a bus... or a tank) and put some less belligerent puppet in his place.

It is speculated that this is why his step-brother, Kim Jong-Nam, was recently assassinated. It helps solidify Kim Jong Un's leadership in NK. Without a ready replacement, this probably escalates the situation further.

> Just pointing out that China likely won't sit on its ass as this happens

China already is behaving aggressively, expanding territory under its control (e.g., in the S. China Sea) and threatening to do so elsewhere (e.g, in the Senkaku islands). They may try to justify their next aggression by blaming someone, but that isn't meaningful.

The same applies to Russia, which already had annexed part of Georgia and clearly had designs on the southern Ukrainian province of Crimea (which did nothing to protect them against missiles). They justify their behavior, like all bad actors throughout history. Look at the Nazi's list of excuses as they snatched territory in the run-up to WWII.

The U.S. and others can't be intimidated into inaction while aggressors like Russia and China keep moving forward, for fear of 'upsetting' their tender feelings.

I really think you're oversimplifying the situation from the Chinese perspective.

How so? China is their largest trading partner and NK is building the missiles using Chinese parts.


NK shares a border with China and obviously can't trade with SK. It'd be miraculous if China wasn't their largest trading partner.

I suspect almost all countries that don't get military hardware from the US or Russia build their missiles with Chinese parts.

How is it over-simplified? China is letting this happen because of a lot of the profits they make, and russia make, off of the dictatorship that there is.


Russia gets slaves from them, thats why Russia protects them. China both profits from them, but also doesn't want to deal with Refugees. So they make the selfish act of letting the child run crazy.

> China is letting this happen because of a lot of the profits they make ...

How do you know the Chinese leadership's strategic thinking about NK? Also, that hypothesis doesn't explain the massive resources, including blood, they spent defending NK.

I don't think NK's 25 million citizen labor pool, likely operating at extremely low-productivity levels and less than 1/40th of China's, makes much economic impact. Nor does China want competition from cheap labor.

NK Has strategic value to China more than anything I believe. Although, maybe China just doesn't know what to do with North Korea and therefore just tries to get along with them as best they can, or they are actually happy to have NK on a leash and remain friendly enough to keep NK from biting them.

What is the Chinese perspective?

That the US is taking advantage of the NK situation to "ring China".

I consider NK to be a serious threat to the US and her allies but I think the Chinese do not consider NK to be a serious threat to the Chinese.

Imagine if Cuba decided to start allowing Chinese anti-missile defense systems at the US' doorstep because we weren't willing to deal with our ally Mexico regarding a conflict that didn't threat us.

This assumes we let Mexico develop nuclear weapons and delivery systems while threatening China and Cuba with nuclear attack... for at least a decade.

It only makes sense for threatened parties to develop defense if not retaliatory measures. Imagine if the USSR never developed nuclear weapons while the USA threatened them with nuclear attack?

You don't have to imagine. Go look at the US foreign policy from 1945-1948. There were several instances where the threat was made.

I have a hard time seeing why we in the US should care in the least about a missile defense system in Cuba.

I would prefer that China plays a more active role in resolving the situation so I sort of hate to play devil's advocate here but...

The missile defense systems we deployed in SK could be used to track Chinese missiles. My point was imagine the outcry from the US if we perceived that the Chinese were tracking our missiles under the guise of tracking Mexico's.

Their problem isn't with the interceptors; it's with the tracking radars. They could theoretically help counteract Chinese missiles and aircraft that are supposed to deny access to Chinese coastal waters in the case of war with the US.

It's just a bomb, rather a bit larger than other bombs. What's the fuss? :)


How does that comment in any way imply that it's ethical or reasonable to interfere with another state's defense systems?

> "They've let their little client state (North Korea) get out of control ... they have nukes ... they should have taken appropriate action years ago."

The comment suggests taking actions against possible nuclear development, while China's position has always been "no nuclear on Korean peninsula". We know that the statement or stand had no real effects. So the only other possible alternative would be to interfere directly to stop them from developing their defense systems. So I thought the parent comment is suggesting that.

I phrased it in such a way to draw parallel with US military actions recently to show how that is equally undesirable.

China has been interfering in North Korea since the establishment of the country. If they stopped now, the place would fall apart. So all that comment is really advocating for is a minor change in how they interfere. Noninterference would likely result in rapid collapse and war.

My apologies, maybe I read too much into the parent comment. Well that happens when you are not careful.

I guess you didn't see my comment below that China deployed long range radar system to monitor the sky of South Korea and Japan like 10 years ago? Or are you just ignoring that?

US military is present in South Korea and Japan because of N. Korea and China, not anybody else.

You don't see such US military presence in NZ or Australia.

> US military is present in South Korea and Japan because of N. Korea and China, not anybody else. / You don't see such US military presence in NZ or Australia.

I'm not sure that paints an accurate picture.

The first reason the U.S. is in Japan and S Korea is because the U.S. won WWII and setup bases in captured territory. If you look at most major U.S. bases around the world, you will notice they are in territory captured in WWII: Germany, Italy, Japan, S Korea, the Philippines (legal and future status uncertain), etc.

It's the same reason the UK controls Gibralter (since a war in ~1704!), Russia controls Kaliningrad (WWII), Taiwan is relatively independent (Japan conquered it in the late 19th century, then the U.S. took it in WWII), Hong Kong (UK in 19th century), etc. It's the spoils of war, and the consequences can last perpetually - until the next major war. Imagine how different China's situation would be if those bases weren't there.

The second reason is that East Asia is militarily unstable, and the U.S. presence provides stability appreciated by all. Otherwise all these very distrustful neighbors would build up militaries, disrupt trade, and end up in wars. China may be the exception, but probably even they don't want the U.S. to just walk away, leave a vacuum of chaos, destabilize the Korean Peninsula, and compel Japan to becoming a full military power again; they probably want to slowly replace U.S. power with their own.

Australia and New Zealand are not militarily unstable, though they do have close relationships with U.S. military and security institutions. The U.S. does base troops in N. Australia now, to support security to the north.

> The second reason is that East Asia is militarily unstable

I think you supported by argument. Why is East Asia militarily unstable?

I'm not sure quite what you are looking for. I gave some reasons above. I think it's widely accepted to be true among foreign policy experts, FWIW. Here's a bit more.

Some is basic international relations (which I'm no expert in, and I'm writing quickly off the top of my head ...):

Fundamentally, there are multiple powers in close proximity (China, Japan, Russia, and currently S Korea) who are militarily competitive (i.e., there's not one clearly dominant power, as in N. America, whom the others can't challenge) and vulnerable to each other (e.g., not separated by an ocean, like the U.S. and other powers). This is a sure recipe for wars, and there's a history of it happening in East Asia. Furthermore, there is a lot of nationalistic hatred, especially between Japan and the other powers. Another example of powers in proximity is Europe through WWII, where wars were fought for hundreds of years.

Domestically, conflicts are resolved through rules (laws) and mechanisms (courts), and there is an authority to enforce it all (government). In the international arena there is no authority; it's fundamentally Darwinian anarchy and nations, fearing for their very survival or seeing opportunity in the lawlessness, end up shooting at each other. The way Europe stopped having wars was to create the European Union, which provided the authority, rules, and mechanisms (and the American presence helped too). Globally, the United Nations and "international law" serve that purpose to a degree, and international wars have been greatly reduced since WWII, but really there is no authority with enforcement power.

But there is, to an extent, one exception to that last sentence, the United States. The U.S. can play that role to a degree. They aren't a legitimate authority, in that nobody elected them and they represent nobody but their own interests (hopefully enlightened), but they have the power to enforce things when they want to. Much of the world, desiring some order and wishing to avoid crippling wars, supports it to a degree. The U.S. is, relatively to predecessors and to potential alternatives (China, the old USSR, etc.), a responsible steward: They want peace, human rights, and prosperity. The U.S. is averse to conquering foreign lands (i.e., to keep them) and long-term wars. When you hear American officials talk about maintaining the 'rules-based international order' (referred to by some others as the 'U.S.-led international order'), this role is what they mean.

That's the role the U.S. plays in East Asia. They have the power to keep a lid on conflict there, and therefore the local powers don't need to build up militarily and to seek every advantage to ensure their survival.

China is now challenging the U.S.-led international order, including many of the rules that they feel don't suit them. The more the East Asian powers see the U.S. hesitate to fulfill its role, such as during the recent Presidential campaign, the more they build up their own militaries (which is happening rapidly) or consider making a deal with China (which is discussed, even in Australia).

Japan/SKorea would like to spend less $ on weapons. BUT US has a history of abandoning an ally when convenient (like Taiwan).

So even if US guarantees nuclear umbrella for SKorea and Japan, you never know what will happen. And you don't want to take chances with N Korea there.

I agree that is a line of thinking, with one exception. Japan is not building up its military because of N Korea but because of China.

Japan's recent military buildup didn't begin until China's really took flight. Japan always has faced little threat from N Korea (besides the nuclear weapons); NK would have to cross a significant body of water to reach Japan, and lacks the capability, and Japan has more than enough conventional power to easily defeat NK. To deal with NK, Japan needs only anti-missile and anti-air capabilities to protect against nuclear weapons.

S Korea obviously is much more exposed to NK, but AFAIK their risk is not defeat to NK but losing very large numbers of civilians in Seoul, which the North holds hostage with massive, dug-in artillery batteries. That has been the North's deterrent against an SK invasion. I'm not sure if SK's military is growing.

You misunderstood my point. I have nothing against deploying defense structures among allies or in one's own territory.

I was referring to the "possible actions" that could have been taken against NK by China earlier, proposed by the parent comment.

The possible actions would be to stop propping them up. Not providing humanitarian aid in the resulting collapse would be pretty unethical, but it's in China's self interest anyway. They don't want lots of refugees in their border region.

Well, NK has been at times dependent on aid from China, so it doesn't seem too unreasonable to ask China to try to restrain NK's aggressiveness.

On the other hand, your point would apply pretty well to China's response to South Korea's defense systems. (It's not just that China's calling it espionage; the article mentions serious hacking attacks.)

Yes, you have a point. But I would argue that while intelligence operations are commonplace practices of states, direct military actions require more thoughts and it is not something Chinese government would carry out without proper justification.

Basically on this matter, the Chinese government has taken a similar approach as the previous US administration, which is to not take actions. On hindsight of course it is easy to say China (Obama) should have done this or that. But it was quite hard to justify actions against NK until pretty recently. And indeed actions were taken in the form of economic sanctions in light of recent events.

No, the chinese government is not adopting the same stance as previous US admins.

The US have an embargo against North Korea, whereas the chinese are selling them materials to build their missiles with.

They could start by putting political pressure on them, levying trade sanctions and publicly denouncing their nuclear program.

Which they exactly did:

North Korea’s Hydrogen Bomb Claim Strains Ties With China

JAN. 6, 2016


China announces sanctions against North Korea

5 April 2016


China has no one but Xi is to blame. He gets an F for foreign policy. By delaying action on North Korea at the beginning of their nuclear ambition, they've increased tensions in the region with very little benefit to China and a ton of win for US, S. Korea & Japan by having powerful THAAD radars.

It is the radars that is the bigger issue because it diminishes China's nuclear projection in the region.

The funny thing is China deployed long range radar system that can monitor the sky of S. Korea AND Japan like 10 years ago...

Good, let them fight each other instead of us and our allies.

theatre defence is seen as espionage lol its not like both China and the USA haven't got massive elint/sigint operations

What a disaster in that region last few weeks... Let's review: SK impeached its president; NK tested more missiles; US bungled the messaging of the armada, reversed position on China's currency manipulation, then "realized it's not so easy"; then China spins PR against SK for deploying a defense, then they add on some passive aggressive internet hacking.

Maybe things aren't so bad elsewhere.

Actually I don't think it's that bad for South Korea, despite what some media says.

1. impeachment: Ultimate example of democracy at work. And no general stepped forward to declare he must rescue the nation from the chaos or did the society collapse. All institutions are working as they should. Unlikely to see such calm transition of power when a president is impeached in non-developed nations.

2. NK is NK, always firing missiles, even before all this.

3. S Korean govt is at least able to respond and/or have US willing to put in the weight to respond. Remember Ukraine?

No seriously, S Korea cannot be compared with other places with bad things happening now.

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