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What THAAD can do is unknown to China, experts say

ReutersHONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) — China steadfastly opposes the deployment of advanced U.S. anti-missile radars in South Korea because it does not know whether the defenses, intended for North Korean missiles, are capable of tracking and countering Beijing’s own nuclear program, experts say.

Beijing’s resistance to the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile system put up south of Seoul has become a major thorn in bilateral ties with the United States and is bound to be discussed at this week’s summit meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump.

While the United States says THAAD is needed to protect Seoul from the threat posed by North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile programs, some Chinese strategists believe it is also a threat to the viability of China’s nuclear deterrent.

“It is clear that there is no one in China who really knows the technical capability of THAAD and that’s part of the problem,” said Zhang Baohui, a Hong Kong-based mainland expert on China’s nuclear deterrent.

“THAAD’s full capabilities are secret so there is a real knowledge gap among Chinese strategists. If they are misplaced, they are at least genuine in their concern — they have to assume a worst case scenario.”

Officially, China says it objects to THAAD because it will destabilize the regional security balance.

Chinese officials have also expressed concern about the reported 2,000 kilometer range of THAAD’s powerful X-band radars, which can look deep into the mainland, rather than the system’s shorter range interceptor missiles that can target North Korea’s missiles.

Besides casting a shadow over U.S.-China ties, THAAD has also ruptured the relationship between Seoul and Beijing.

Chinese authorities have closed dozens of Lotte retail stores on the mainland after the South Korean conglomerate agreed to provide land for the missile defense system.

There has been a sharp decline in Chinese tourists going to South Korea, while South Korean singers and actors have been blocked in various ways from reaching a mainland Chinese audience, and dozens of Korean-focused blogs suspended in China.

THAAD, never tested in a conflict and whose effectiveness is still questioned by some Western experts, is designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles late in flight, either just inside or outside the earth’s atmosphere.

The range of its radars however can help the system cover missile and rocket launch sites deep in China’s isolated northeast where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tests its modern generation of long-range weapons, some Chinese experts fear.Speech

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