On 29 May, China’s foreign ministry said that it firmly opposes the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defence system in South Korea and urged the United States (US) not to harm bilateral relations between Beijing and Seoul.
This was after reports broke out that the American and South Korean troops brought replacement THAAD missiles to a base in South Korea overnight.
Yonhap news agency cited unnamed officials as saying that it was a routine resupply operation to only replace older missiles, not increasing the number of weapons at the base.
What is THAAD?
It is an anti-ballistic missile defense system designed and manufactured by the US company Lockheed Martin. It is ground-based and transportable.
The space-based and ground-based surveillance stations intercept any threat of incoming missile and alert the system via infrared sensors. The THAAD interceptor missile can then take down the incoming missile before it hits the target.
It can shoot down short-range (up to 1,000 km), medium-range (1,000 to 3,000 km), and intermediate-range (3,000 to 5,500 km) ballistic missiles in their phase of descent or reentry.
The THAAD doesn’t carry a warhead that explodes to destroy the intercepted missile. It instead relies just on its own momentum, or kinetic energy. This minimises the risk of explosion of the warheads — including nuclear — of the incoming missile.
Reportedly, each THAAD unit deployed in South Korea consists of six truck-mounted launchers, 48 interceptors, a fire control and communications unit, and an AN/TPY-2 radar.
Why China has a problem with THAAD?
THAAD was deployed in South Korea in 2017 amidst test missiles being fired by a China-backed North Korea in the direction of US islands.
China had then protested the move saying that it was “actually to track missiles launched from China". It alleged that the system’s inbuilt advanced radar systems could track China’s actions.
In response to THAAD, China had hit South Korea economically. The businesses were closed down and tourism fell. Sale of South Korean products fell and South Korean stars were forced to cancel their shows and concerts.
THAAD forms an important part of the security umbrella of the United States that enables it to play the role of global policeman and maintain military preponderance backing its superpower status.
It is deployed around the world by US in strategic locations against its potential enemies. Currently the defence system exists in Hawaii, Guam, Wake Islands — the US territories in the Pacific ocean; Romania; UAE; Israel; Turkey; and South Korea.
While China plans to suffocate India with a string of pearls — military bases across the Indian Ocean — it remains vulnerable to the same policy of encirclement.
As US-China cold war intensifies, not only the Washington will add heft to its Indo-Pacific strategy but also both US and Southeast nations — often at the receiving end of Chinese aggressive bullying — will look towards India to join them in balancing against China.
Rattled by Hong Kong protests, a stifled One Belt One Road, slowing economic growth and prospects of isolation in global politics, China is trying to flex its muscles in a bid to scare away its enemies. The current border skirmish in Eastern Ladakh is an example.
Such short-termism could prove costly to China.
The Quad — Australia, Japan, India, US— has not yet come up with a potent military alliance and security architecture for a common goal, but it can do so swiftly when the time comes.
Hong Kong or the border skirmish — the next Chinese tantrum can become the proverbial last nail in the coffin that gives a push to rigorous containment by global players against a rogue China.
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