BEIJING – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi demanded on Friday that the United States lift a ban on sending officials to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, saying Beijing will retaliate.
Washington has locked down about 300 officials, government employees and military personnel to the Games, set to be held in the Pyeongchang Mountains from Feb. 9 to 25.
Beijing was enraged by the move and wants South Korea and the U.S. to drop the ban.
Wang said the decision to ban officials from the Olympics caused serious harm to U.S.-China ties and was inappropriate.
“We warn the United States that China will respond firmly to any anti-China and anti-peace actions,” Wang said.
China said its warning was not an official warning, to allow Chinese officials to participate in the Games unhindered.
Wang’s comments come after South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn met Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time since taking office, and agreed with Xi to resolve the issue by resolving the dispute through consultation.
China is the main diplomatic backer of North Korea and is concerned the deployment of the U.S. anti-missile system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, in South Korea would deny it of its backyard’s biggest potential military threat.
The move to turn South Korea into a military staging post for war games between the United States and South Korea is seen by China as a threat to its security and has stoked a bitter row between the countries.
China, the North’s lone major ally, has repeatedly denounced what it calls the “destabilizing policy” by the United States and the South Korea.
China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday it had summoned the acting U.S. Ambassador, Robert King, to protest the decision to include Beijing in the crackdown.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said Wang had told King that China opposed the use of the Olympics as a “tool to settle local problems” between foreign countries and China and urged Washington to revoke the list of officials.
“What kind of Olympic spirit is it if the Games are used as a platform to punish countries for (only) exercising their (human) rights?” Xinhua said, citing Wang.
“Only the United States can take a measure that will cause serious damage to China-U.S. relations and China-U.S. cooperation,” the report added.
Beijing repeatedly has urged Washington to drop its plans to deploy the THAAD system, but it has so far failed to persuade Washington to amend the deployment plan.
China and South Korea agreed in June to resume talks on Thaad, but they have since hit a deadlock.
Speaking in Boston on Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he hoped to re-start talks with Beijing on the issue, possibly in mid-September.
China is set to send an acting vice commerce minister to South Korea on Sept. 13 to discuss the deployment, China’s foreign ministry said.
Moon had said in late July he was open to holding talks with the North on reducing tensions over its nuclear program, if the United States dropped its THAAD plan.
Asked whether he was calling off that plan, Moon said: “At this stage, this is still possible.”
A senior South Korean diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Friday a trilateral summit with the United States and China may be held if THAAD deployment was withdrawn.
But those discussions could fail as Washington has refused to budge on the deployment, which South Korea says is aimed solely at North Korea, said the diplomat, who did not want to be identified.
On the deployment issue, the Japanese government said on Friday it supported President Moon Jae-in’s decision to avoid talks with the North, but made clear it still needed to maintain open dialogue with China to resolve issues such as THAAD.