Updated on July 29 at 4:45 p.m.
The President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, has asked the U.S. to open negotiations that would allow South Korea to build more powerful ballistic missiles in order to counter an increasingly aggressive North Korea. On Friday, the government in Pyongyang fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), its second this month, that flew about 45 minutes straight up and crashed into the sea off Japan some 620 miles away. U.S. national security advisor H.R. McMaster confirmed early Saturday that Washington had accepted Moon’s offer, and would begin negotiations shortly.
The decision is a remarkable change of direction for Moon, who came to office just two months ago. Moon campaigned on a platform that favored dialogue with North Korea. He’d also opposed the U.S. missile defense system, called THAAD, that was aimed at countering a North Korean threat. But on Saturday Moon asked his government to work with the U.S. to temporarily deploy the full THAAD system. The move will likely upset China, which says the missile defense system could be used to spy into its territory and that it would escalate tensions with Pyongyang.
China’s foreign ministry, in a statement early Saturday meant to scold North Korea, urged its leaders “to respect United Nations security council resolutions and stop all acts that could worsen tensions.” Then, after learning of Moon’s request to Washington, China issued an even more pointed statement, saying that “THAAD won’t solve South Korea’s security concerns, won’t solve the related issues on the Korean Peninsula and will only further complicate issues.”