On October 10, Noh Young-min, the newly appointed South Korean ambassador to China under the Moon Jae-in government, arrived in Beijing to assume his position. Faced with the North Korean crisis as well as tensions between Beijing and Seoul over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, Noh vowed to resolve the THAAD feud by clearing China’s misunderstandings about the system and South Korea’s intentions.
On August 30, South Korean President Moon Jae-in named Noh, who had served as Moon’s chief of staff when Moon ran for presidency in 2012, as his envoy to China. In the press briefing, the South Korean presidential office spokesperson said Noh, “as a three-term lawmaker,” is considered the right person for the important post because of his “vast political experience, outstanding negotiation skills and high understanding in international relations.”
“He is expected to help further develop the Korea-China relations by smoothly resolving many complicated issues between the two countries, such as the THAAD deployment,” the spokesperson added.
According to South Korea’s news agency Yonhap, in a luncheon meeting with multiple reporters in late September, Noh said he would do his utmost to address Chinese misunderstanding on THAAD:
I think that China will believe if we explain with sincerity that it was installed to defend against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and that it is absolutely not targeting China…We have to do all we can to make them believe it. I think we should make both political and technological efforts (on the matter).
Days before he left for China, Noh did an individual interview with Xinhua. In the interview, he said that he admires Chinese culture and history and recited Chinese ancient poetry. He also emphasized that the neighboring-relation between China and South Korea are as close as the relations between relatives. Noh repeatedly explained that the THAAD system was aimed at defending against possible North Korean nuclear and missile attacks rather than China. China has consistently maintained that the THAAD system hurts China’s strategic security interests, as the radar can peer deep into its territory.
Noh’s assurances don’t seem to have been accepted by the Chinese public. Hundreds of Chinese netizens have left harsh comments under news reports about his comments.
Despite the fundamentally conflicting views on the THAAD system, the Chinese foreign ministry extended a friendly gesture to Noh with spokeswoman Hua Chunying welcoming Noh during the regular press conference. She said China is “looking forward to the positive role” Noh can plan “in promoting appropriate settlement of the existing problem in China-ROK relations, deepening the mutual understanding between the Chinese and ROK people and promoting the improvement of China-ROK relations. ”