BEIJING—The U.S. Army’s top general, on a swing through Asia this week, stopped here to meet his counterpart and assure the Chinese military that a deployment of a controversial missile defense system in South Korea didn’t amount to a threat to China.
Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Army chief of staff, told Gen. Li Zuocheng, who heads the ground forces of the People’s Liberation Army, that the coming deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to South Korea is only meant to defend South Korea and the U.S. against North Korean ballistic missiles.
Gen. Milley was expected to brief Gen. Li and his staff on the system, an Army program typically known as THAAD, during a roughly two-hour meeting at the Bayi building, the headquarters for the PLA here.
Beijing has expressed deep concerns that the missile defense system, which monitors North Korea, looks into parts of China and could thus weaken Beijing’s nuclear deterrent. The Chinese government has so far not indicated a willingness to accept Washington’s view that the system isn’t designed to threaten China.
North Korea has launched more than 30 ballistic missiles since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took power in 2011. Most launches are tests of old missiles that travel short distances and land in the sea far from other countries. But in June, Pyongyang successfully tested a new midrange missile that is considered a threat to U.S. bases in Guam and Japan.
The U.S. and the Republic of Korea announced Feb. 7 that they were in formal discussions about the deployment of the THAAD system, just hours after the North conducted another missile launch, and concluded those talks with an agreement earlier this summer to deploy the system.
The announcement of the deployment of the missile system comes amid enduring tensions between the U.S. and China over the disputes over islands in the South China Sea. It was unclear if the talks between Gen. Milley and Gen. Li would include discussion on those disputes, though it was likely in light of a ruling against China on the disputes by a tribunal in The Hague July 12.
Gen. Milley’s visit to China follows a visit earlier this summer by Adm. John Richardson, the U.S. chief of naval operations, as well as White House national security adviser Susan Rice.
Gen. Milley’s trip to the region includes stops in Seoul and Tokyo as well as at U.S. Pacific Command, Hawaii. The trip, which was planned months ago, was meant to assure the PLA but also to establish stronger ties between the two generals.
“On behalf of the entire American Army and my delegation, thanks so much for the warm welcome. I look forward to the visit,” Gen. Milley told Gen. Li as the meeting got under way. “Congratulations again on being selected as commander of the PLA Army.”
Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com