| SEOUL, March 17
SEOUL, March 17 The liberal South Korean
politician most likely to become the country's next president
would, if elected, review how the government would deploy an
advanced U.S. missile defence system and would consult China,
two of his top advisers said on Friday.
If Moon Jae-in, the front-runner for the May 9 presidential
election, reverses policy on the deployment of the Terminal High
Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile defence system, it will
place him at odds with the United States, South Korea's biggest
The conservative government of impeached president Park
Geun-hye agreed to deploy the THAAD to guard against an attack
by North Korea, but the decision sparked outrage in China, which
responded with restrictions on some companies doing business
with and in South Korea.
China says the system's radar can be used to spy into its
Moon would likely "do a review of the validity of the
decision", said Choi Jong Kun, a professor at Yongsei University
and an adviser to Moon on foreign policy.
"While doing it he will consult with the United States, as
well as China," Choi said in an interview with Reuters.
"At the end of the day, if the reality unfolds in a way that
South Korea's national security and the economy were damaged
because of the THAAD, not because of the North Korea issue, then
it's not really a rational situation, is it?"
The comments are at variance with a tough stand taken by the
new U.S. administration on North Korea.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, visiting Seoul for
the first time since taking office, said on Friday a U.S. policy
of "strategic patience" with North Korea has ended and military
action would be "on the table" if North Korea elevated the
threat level to warrant it.
Tillerson also said he expected the next South Korean
government would "continue to be supportive" of the THAAD
China is South Korea's largest trading partner and the
dispute over the missile system has left normally bustling
shopping districts in the capital, Seoul, devoid of their usual
crowds of Chinese tourists.
In China, the row has led to a freeze of South Korean
television dramas and music, and product boycotts.
Moon, a liberal facing little in the way of a significant
conservative challenger, said in a debate this week China should
stop the economic retaliation and South Korea had to make
diplomatic efforts to assuage Chinese anger.
"It's only right for the THAAD deployment issue to be
decided by the next administration," Moon told foreign media
A 63-year-old human rights lawyer, Moon has said he will
extend an olive branch to North Korea if elected and would visit
Pyongyang before making a trip to the United States.
Just two North-South summits have been held since the
1950-53 Korean war.
Choi said the decision to deploy the THAAD battery had been
made hastily. China's reaction was foreseeable and yet was
largely ignored by Park's government, he said.
"We had a strategic partnership with Beijing, until this
THAAD issue," Choi said. "Our relationship had been pretty OK
and pretty good."
Kim Ki-Jung, another foreign policy adviser to Moon and
professor at Yonsei University, said he had tried to convince
U.S. military officials and diplomats in Washington last month
that the deployment of the THAAD should be left to the leader
who succeeds Park.
"We are going to acknowledge that two governments made an
agreement ... but the actual process of deployment, that should
be given to the next government," he said.
Instead, the United States started to deploy the first
elements of the system this month, after North Korea fired off
four ballistic missiles into the sea off northwest Japan.
THAAD's job is to intercept and destroy a ballistic missile
in its final phase of flight.
Moon has criticized the two former conservative presidents –
Park and her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak - for derailing progress
made in inter-Korean relations during previous liberal
He calls for a "two-step" approach on North Korea, with
talks leading to "economic unification" and ultimately
"political and military unification."
His viewpoints could spark friction with Washington, but
Moon would have no problem distancing South Korea's interests
from those of the United States, said Kim, the Yonsei University
"The basic assumption is that we are going to maintain the
success of our bilateral alliance," Kim said.
"We are going to keep it ... as long as we admit that South
Korea is not the 51st state of the United States. We are an
independent country, we have our own national interest, and we
should have our own foreign policy strategy."
(Editing by Robert Birsel and Raju Gopalkrishnan)