The Korea Herald


Park's planned visit to Russia aims to ease friction over THAAD

By 신현희

Published : Aug. 3, 2016 - 21:09

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President Park Geun-hye's planned visit to Russia aims to address tensions between Seoul and Moscow over the decision to deploy an advanced U.S. antimissile system to South Korea and further bolster economic ties, analysts here said Wednesday.

Park will fly to Vladivostok on Sept. 2 for a two-day visit during which she will attend an annual economic forum on the development of the Russian Far East and hold a summit with her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, her office Cheong Wa Dae said.

Her trip to Russia was arranged amid friction between the two countries over the recent agreement by Seoul and Washington to station a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on the peninsula by end-2017.

Moscow, along with Beijing, opposes the deployment, saying it will destabilize the regional security landscape and undermine its security interests.

The bilateral relationship has also deteriorated since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, which the South Korean government, in tandem with the international community, maintains breached international law and undermined Ukraine's territorial integrity.

"Park is likely to use her summit with Putin to ease Russia's concerns over THAAD and secure Moscow's support in handling North Korea-related issues including the communist state's pursuit of nuclear arms," said Nam Chang-hee, international politics professor at Inha University.

Amid strong opposition of the deployment of THAAD, particularly from residents in South Korea's southern town of Seongju, the selected site for the deployment, the president has defended the decision as a "self-defense" measure to safeguard her country in the face of evolving nuclear and missile threats from Pyongyang.

Since 2006, Pyongyang has conducted four underground nuclear tests, with the last one being carried out in early January. This last nuke test and the subsequent launching of a long-range missile caused the United Nations Security Council to slap the most stringent sanctions on the North to date.

During the upcoming summit with Putin, Park is likely to stress that THAAD would only target North Korean missiles and call for Russia's cooperation in creating a situation in which Pyongyang has no other option but to renounce its nuclear ambitions, experts said.

Following the decision to deploy a THAAD battery, concerns have also persisted that friction in relations with Russia and China would weaken international cooperation in pressuring the North to give up its evolving nuclear weapons program through strong sanctions.

Considering such concerns, Park is expected to capitalize on her summit diplomacy with Russia to tighten the screws on a recalcitrant Pyongyang, observers pointed out.

During her visit to Vladivostok, the South Korean chief executive will also face the crucial task of restoring bilateral diplomatic and economic ties.

From a bilateral project to expand cooperation in the development of the resource-rich Russian Far East to a three-way economic cooperation scheme that also involves Pyongyang, Seoul and Moscow had pushed for a series of mutually beneficial programs.

But such efforts to expand economic ties have lost traction due to Pyongyang's continued provocations and Russia's conflict with the United States -- South Korea's core security ally -- and the West in the wake of the Crimean crisis.

"Aside from the THAAD issue, the second-most-important issue (for Park) will be to beef up efforts to expand bilateral economic ties, which have been delayed since the West slapped sanctions on Russia (over the annexation of Crimea)," said Ko Jae-nam, director general of the Department of European and African Studies at the state-run Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

On the occasion of the two-day Eastern Economic Forum, which will be held in Vladivostok under the main theme of "Opening up the Russian Far East," Park and Putin are expected to explore ways to develop Russia's underdeveloped regions.

Russia's eastern region has been at the core of the country's "balanced" regional development scheme and its strategy to strengthen its geopolitical presence in East Asia and emerge as a fulcrum of global power and wealth.

In this respect, South Korea, along with China and Japan, has been a crucial partner for Russia pursing an eastward policy, analysts pointed out.

At the EEF, some 100 South Korean government officials and business leaders, which include Seoul's Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Joo Hyung-hwan, will be present to seek new business opportunities from Russia's efforts to develop its eastern region. (Yonhap)