The recent deployment by South Korea of the controversial US-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system in response to potential ballistic threats from North Korea, has led to a furious response by China, whose first-strike ability would be compromised under the existing military configuration. And as BBC reports, “the deployment in South Korea of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system has been slammed by Beijing. Now the Chinese Communist Party is calling on its people to embrace their ill will towards their neighbours” and notes that as anti South-Korea fever sweep China, local school students chant “Boycott Sth Korea!”, and smash South Korean appliances as the “communist Party unleashes anti-Korea spirit.”
However, while eliciting up a traditional nationalistic response by China was to be expected, what is more troubling is that according to the South China Morning Post, China is set to deploy anti-radar countermeasures which will neutralize the South Korean THAAD. The THAAD system consists of a sophisticated radar and interceptor missiles designed to spot and knock out incoming ballistic missiles.
Speaking to retired PLA general Wang Hongguang, the SCMP reports that China knew it might not be able to stop Seoul deploying a US anti-missile system “and was prepared to counter with its own anti-radar equipment.” The comments came as a South Korean court’s decision to uphold the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye had fanned hopes Seoul might put plans for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system on hold. Park supported the installation of the system to help protect South Korea against threats from North Korea, which Beijing says can peer through China’s defences. However, such a de-escalation does not appear to be imminent.
Wang, former deputy commander of the Nanjing Military Region, said China could not take the chance the next South Korean president would change policy and roll back the deployment, and added that Beijing had measures in place to neutralize THAAD’s radars.
“We will complete our deployment before THAAD begins operations. There is no need to wait for two months [before the election of the next South Korean president],” he said on the sidelines of the political sessions in Beijing. “We already have such equipment in place. We just have to move it to the right spot.”
Going even further, Yue Gang, a military commentator and former People’s Liberation Army colonel, said China could either destroy THAAD or neutralise it. However, he hedged by adding that “destroying [THAAD] should only be an option during wartime.” However, China could and would interfere with the system’s functions through electromagnetic technology, he said. Yue said an ideal place to install the Chinese equipment was on the Shandong peninsula on the country’s east coast, opposite South Korea.
Quoted by SCMP, Fu Qianshao, an aviation equipment expert with the PLA Air Force, said China could also send planes – manned or unmanned – to fly close to THAAD to interfere with its radar signals. All the country’s armed forces had the capacity to interfere with radar signals, Fu said.
Wang said China’s chief concern was not just with South Korea’s deployment of the American system but also the United States’ broader potential to contain the region in a sophisticated web of missile defence systems in Japan, Singapore, the Philippines and even Taiwan.
Stated differently, the ongoing diplomatic escalation between China and South Korea over THAAD is really just China lashing out against the ongoing interefence by the US, which seeks to blanket its allies in the region in a mesh that would eliminate China’s tactical first strike advantage, in the process putting the precariouar nuclear balance of power in the region in jeopardy, the same way that the deployment of the US Aegis ashore anti-missile shielf system in Eastern Europe has put Russia on edge, as it too, has lost its first strike capabilities, if only for now. The question, for both China and Russia, is what deterrence they will unveil in response, as a “game theoretical” layout in which two nuclear-armed superpowers suddenly finds themselves questioning their offensive supriority never leads to favorable outcomes, at least in (game) theory.