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Issue Brief
THAAD and Shifting Korean Public Opinion toward the US and China
By Kim Jiyoon, John J. Lee, Kang Chungku
THAAD launch

The deployment of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) on the Korean Peninsula is rapidly changing Korea’s relationships with its two most important partners, the United States and China. The initial estimation, as offered by U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, was that the American missile defense system would be deployed sometime in the summer of 2017.

As of March, however, parts of the THAAD battery have already landed in Korea. While more time is needed to prepare the site in Seongju, it appears likely that a fully operational THAAD system could be installed much earlier than initially anticipated.

China has responded aggressively, banning imports of Korean cultural products and cracking down on tourism to Korea. Lotte Group, the Korean conglomerate that agreed to a land-swap deal with the Korean government that would allow THAAD to be placed in Seongju, has been the target of retaliation by the Chinese government, as well as Chinese consumers who have boycotted Lotte products.

These developments are likely the result of calculated assessments by the American and Chinese governments to capitalize on now-former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment proceeding and the resulting leadership vacancy in Korea.

The United States has calculated that an early deployment of THAAD would be the best course of action, as President Park’s impeachment will likely place a progressive government in the Blue House.

On the other hand, China has focused its anger at Lotte Group, although it has refrained from targeting more Korean companies for the time being. China is likely awaiting the result of the presidential election and hoping that the next administration will work together to address the issue in its favor.

The past three months have been a very interesting time for Koreans. They not only went through one of the worst political crises in their history, but also witnessed the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and saw the Korean Peninsula become a battleground for U.S.-China rivalry over THAAD.

As a result, their opinions toward the missile defense system and their two most important partners have shifted. This issue brief examines the Asan Institute’s recent public opinion survey results to identify how and why their opinions have undergone changes.




 

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