(ATTN: UPDATES with Chinese ambassador's statement in last 2 paras)
By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, Aug. 11 (Yonhap) -- The issue of the deployment of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea is not subject to negotiation, the presidential office said Thursday, after China claimed Seoul promised to limit its operation during the previous Moon Jae-in administration.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system was a key topic of discussion during this week's meeting between the foreign ministers of South Korea and China in the Chinese port city of Qingdao.
On Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry claimed South Korea had agreed to limit the operation of the THAAD battery in Seongju, in addition to sticking to the "Three No's" principle of no additional THAAD deployments in South Korea, no participation in a U.S.-led missile defense network, and no involvement in a trilateral military alliance with the United States and Japan.
Seoul has denied the claim.
"Our government clearly states that THAAD is a self-defensive defense tool aimed at protecting our people's lives and safety from North Korea's nuclear and missile threats and a matter of security sovereignty that can never be subject to negotiation," a presidential official told reporters.
The THAAD unit was deployed to South Korea in 2017 despite fierce opposition from Beijing, which claims its radar could be used to target China.
The then government of President Moon Jae-in unveiled the "Three No's" principle at the time, though it stopped short of calling it an agreement with Beijing, and kept the THAAD base on a temporary status pending an environmental impact assessment.
Asked when the THAAD operation is expected to be normalized, the presidential official said it is progressing "at a fast pace" and will likely be "almost normalized by the end of August."
But the presidential office later clarified the official was talking about normalization of the base, not of the THAAD operation.
The official also said the government is trying to determine the intentions behind China's claim Wednesday and that the presidential office received no material from the previous administration regarding the "Three No's" principle during the transition period.
Xing Haiming, China's ambassador to South Korea, said earlier in the day THAAD has posed "the biggest challenge" to bilateral relations and called for efforts to properly handle the issue based on "mutual understanding."
"(The foreign ministers) shared the view that they should take each other's security concerns seriously and make efforts to properly handle the issue so this problem does not become an obstacle to bilateral ties," Xing said in a statement.