Reuters International

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China needs to understand that it is a matter of life or death for South Koreans to protect themselves from possible North Korean nuclear attack and that Beijing should engage in talks over the possible deployment of a new U.S. anti-missile system there, a senior South Korean official said on Monday.

The United States and South Korea earlier began talks on possible deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system after North Korea tested its fourth nuclear bomb on Jan. 6 and launched a long-range rocket on Feb. 7, but China firmly opposes the move.

Shin Beomchul, director-general for policy planning at South Korea's foreign ministry, told a seminar that more conversations were need with China on the issue.

"I hope to ask China’s understanding of what (South) Korea is feeling about the North Korean threat," he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"It is not the usual threat, it is a nuclear threat. That’s very serious. We are now in the live-or-die situation," he said.

"We have to solve the ... misunderstanding, but the fundamental point is that to protect our country is the top priority."

Ultimately, the way to resolve the controversy would be to decrease the North Korean threat, he added.

Mark Lambert, director of the Office of Korean Affairs at the U.S. State Department, told the seminar Beijing was still refusing a U.S. offer of briefings to explain that the system was not aimed at limiting China's defence capabilities.

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Hyoung-zhin stressed the need for all countries to put pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program through full implementation of international and bilateral sanctions.

He said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's government did not look likely to give up nuclear weapons under any circumstances, but did respond to external stimuli.

"If these elements are tightly interwoven without any loophole ... the Kim Jong Un regime will realize that it cannot survive unless it gives up its nuclear program and takes steps towards denuclearisation," he said.

Lambert said U.S. experts wanted to explain that the THAAD system would not negate China's nuclear deterrent as its radars would be pointed northeast into North Korea, not into China.

"We need to have that dialogue. But unfortunately to date, officials in Beijing have been unwilling to meet with our officials and hear that."

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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