China is lashing out at South Korea and Washington for the deployment of a powerful missile defense system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, deposited at the Osan Air Base in South Korea on Monday evening.
The deployment of THAAD follows several ballistic missile tests by North Korea in recent months, including the launch of four missiles on Monday, three of which landed in the sea off the coast of Japan. Though THAAD would help South Korea protect itself from a North Korean missile attack, China is vocally protesting the deployment of the system, claiming it upsets the "strategic equilibrium" in the region because its radar will allow the United States to detect and track missiles launched from China.
North Korean provocations aside, THAAD's arrival on the Korean Peninsula comes amid heightened tensions between the new U.S. administration and China, as well as uncertainty surrounding the U.S. military's commitment to its security relationships in the region and around the world. Within that context, THAAD's deployment packs a significant amount of symbolic firepower alongside its battery of interceptor missiles.
Already there has been a blacklash. Liu Yuan, a retired Chinese general who is generally outspoken on Chinese security matters, wrote for China's state-run Global Times that the Chinese military could conduct a "surgical hard-kill operation that would destroy the target, paralyzing it and making it unable to hit back."
Though such military actions are unlikely, China has already forced the closing of 23 stores owned by Lotte, one of South Korea's huge family-run conglomerates (Lotte agreed to turn over a parcel of land in South Korea on which the THAAD system would be placed). State media has also encouraged Chinese citizens to boycott South Korean products, a move that, if effective, could rob major South Korean companies, like Samsung and Hyundai, of a massive consumer market.
South Korea is reportedly considering filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization over China's economic retaliation. The commercial ramifications of THAAD could still escalate further.