Missile pact opens channel for US

Updated: 2012-10-09 02:01

By Zhou Wa (China Daily)

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The Washington-Seoul agreement on extending the range of Seoul's ballistic missiles offers another channel for the United States to boost its military presence in Northeast Asia, analysts said, warning of possible tensions brought about by the updated agreement.

Seoul plans to deploy the new ballistic missiles in five years, the country's media reported on Monday, after the Republic of Korea and the US pledged to extend the range of Seoul's ballistic missiles from 300 kilometers and 800 km on Sunday.

With the agreement, the US has attempted to increase its own military presence in Northeast Asia by improving the ROK's military power, said Jin Canrong, an expert on global affairs at the Renmin University of China.

Domestic economic problems at home, and ongoing tensions with Arab countries have put further pressure on the US in its efforts at increasing its presence in the Asia-Pacific region, so Washington is seeking support from its allies in the region, he said.

Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, added that the US hopes the ROK can share the burden of a large defense budget, while increasing Washington's military presence in the region.

As a result, he warned of the possibility of an escalation in military tension on the Korean Peninsula, between the ROK and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The ROK plans to deploy new ballistic missiles with a range of 550 km and 800 km in five years, reported ROK's Yonhap News Agency, citing an anonymous official on Monday.

According to the unnamed source, the ROK military has budgeted 2.4 trillion won ($2.15 billion) for the planned deployment, while still waiting for parliamentary approval for 500 billion won in spending from next year. The ROK military did not confirm the report.

The extended range can now cover all territory of the DPRK and reach China, Russia and Japan, and will trigger great concern from those countries, according to media reports.

Wang Junsheng, an expert on East Asian studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the agreement will worsen already tense relations between the ROK and the DPRK.

Qu added that the extension of the missile reach would further accelerate the arms race on the Korean Peninsula, and feeling the imbalance of military power, the DPRK would accordingly increase counter-military measures, which will bring more difficulties to the denuclearization and disarmament of any ballistic missiles.

Richard Bush, director of the Brookings Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, told Yonhap News Agency that the approval by US international security experts meant that the ROK can now increase its ability to contain the DPRK.

But Christopher Nelson, author of a daily communique of international events called the Nelson Report, also told Yonhap that reaching the new agreement was unavoidable, given that the ROK's neighbors are developing their own weapons including missiles.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Monday at a regular news briefing that China does not wish to see an escalated military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula.

It is an obligation of all parties involved to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula, realize denuclearization and avoid the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Hong said.

He reiterated China's stance of solving issues concerning the peninsula through dialogue, and called for all parties to make greater efforts to ease the situation.

Chun Young-woo, a top foreign and security affairs adviser to ROK President Lee Myung-bak, told reporters that the most important aim in revising the missile guidelines was deterring the DPRK's military provocation.

The US also denied that its agreement to extend the ROK's missile range was aimed at parties other than the DPRK, and said it was designed to improve the ROK's ability to defend itself against DPRK ballistic missiles.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Sunday in Washington: "The revisions are a prudent, proportional and specific response to the DPRK."

Wang Junsheng added that besides deterring the DPRK, it also sends a message from Washington to Beijing that China should force the DPRK to give up its nuclear program.

Contact the writer at zhouwa@chinadaily.com.cn