U.S., South Korean Leaders Discuss Taiwan Strait, Lift South Korea’s Missile Range Restrictions

U.S. President Joe Biden held a summit with visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on Friday (21). The two men issued a joint declaration after the meeting, agreeing that maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is crucial. Moon announced that the two sides agreed to abolish the U.S.-Korea Missile Guidance, meaning that South Korea can develop and possess different types of missiles without restrictions. The U.S. has allowed South Korea to have missiles with ranges beyond the Korean peninsula in order to counterbalance the Chinese Communist Party, which could anger the Chinese Communist Party and lead to a repeat of the 2016 “Korea Restriction” incident.

In his speech, Moon denied that Biden had pressured him to take a tough stance on the Taiwan Strait issue. He said the U.S. and South Korea have agreed to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait and will work more closely together. He later said, “I am pleased to announce the repeal of the U.S.-Korea Missile Guidance.” And he said South Korea regains sovereignty over missiles. A former South Korean defense ministry official said that it could develop its own intercontinental ballistic missiles and advanced submarine-launched ballistic missiles in the future; lifting missile range restrictions means that missiles can be launched from a more rearward and secure position, increasing the degree of tactical flexibility and responding more effectively to threats from North Korea and other countries.

When the U.S.-Korea Missile Guidance was signed into law in 1979, then-South Korean President Park Chung-hee agreed to limit the range of missiles to 180 kilometers and the weight of warheads to 500 kilograms in order to gain access to U.S. missile technology. With the growing threat of North Korean nuclear missiles, the U.S. and South Korea have revised the U.S.-Korea Missile Guidance four times as of last year, limiting the range of South Korean missiles to 800 kilometers and lifting the warhead weight limit. The Hyunmu-4 surface-to-surface missile is South Korea’s longest-range missile in service, with a range of 800 kilometers and a warhead weighing 2 tons.

According to Jang Yong-jin, a missile expert at South Korea Aviation University, Seoul and Beijing are 950 kilometers apart, and a missile with a range of 800 kilometers could already cover the entire North Korean territory, so the U.S.’s flexible policy indicates that the focus is not on the Korean Peninsula. Park Yuan-jian, a professor of international politics at Hankook International University, argues that the U.S. has tried to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia and elsewhere after withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Missile Treaty, but has drawn opposition from the Chinese Communist Party and Russia, in which case it is in Washington’s interest to strengthen the missile capabilities of its allies.

Kim Heung-gyu, a professor of political science at Asia University in South Korea, warned that South Korea could be constantly involved in the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, and that striking a balance is a difficult task.