Extra THAAD launchers fuel controversy
Korea’s political circle is embroiled in fresh controversy after President Moon Jae-in’s decision to proceed with the stalled deployment of the U.S. anti-missile shield here.
At a National Security Council meeting hurriedly convened at 1 a.m. Saturday after Pyongyang’s late-night ballistic missile launch on Friday, Moon ordered his aides to consult with the U.S. over the temporary deployment of four additional launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery.
The order comes a day after the government said it would conduct a full-scale environmental assessment of the deployment site in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, before installing the four launchers.
“The government will deploy them temporarily, and at the same time, continue the ongoing environmental impact assessment as a separate procedure,” a Cheong Wa Dae official explained.
He said a final decision on full deployment would depend on the assessment, which is expected to take more than a year.
The U.S. THAAD battery consists of six interceptor missile launchers. Only two of the six were installed and operational, with the additional four having been kept at a U.S. military base here.
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) supported Moon’s decision, calling the plan the best possible solution considering relationships with the U.S. and China.
Beijing has opposed the deployment, which it claims will be used to spy on its military activities, taking economic retaliation against Korean businesses.
“It is a rational measure that would strengthen coordination with the U.S. and enable the government to seek understanding from China,” DPK spokeswoman Rep. Back Hye-ryun said.
Woo Won-shik, the party’s floor leader, stressed the inevitability of Moon’s decision, saying, “It is an understandable order because the security of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia is now at risk following the North’s missile launch.”
The ruling party has remained ambiguous about whether the country needs to operate the U.S. anti-missile system here, mindful of China’s strong opposition.
But Woo added that a final decision about the deployment should be considered carefully after the environmental survey, keeping in tune with Cheong Wa Dae.
But opposition parties denounced Moon’s order, saying the government had only made a stopgap measure and failed to respond properly to the growing security threat.
Liberty Korea Party spokeswoman Jun Hee-kyung called it a mere “trick” to avoid public opposition and claimed the government should withdraw the environmental study and push for “immediate and complete” deployment of the THAAD system.
People’ Party spokesman Son Kum-ju urged the government to take a consistent and clear position on the anti-missile unit. Party leader Park Joo-sun even called on Moon to reconsider his conciliatory approach to the North, saying his peace overture presented in his Berlin speech was only an “illusion.”
“It can’t make any progress if Moon keeps holding onto both options of seeking dialogue and imposing sanctions,” he said.
“It is likely to fail as there is a grave change in circumstances (with North Korea’s improved missile technology).”
Park said the government should prioritize strengthening the alliance with the U.S. when dealing with the North Korea issue.
“The firm Korea-U.S. alliance should be the pillar when seeking peace on the peninsula and economic cooperation with the North,” he said. “It is not easy to win U.S. trust with the government’s flip-flopping attitude on the THAAD issue.”
Moon’s decision also brought more protests from China.
China expressed “serious concerns” over the deployment in a statement issued by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
“China’s position on the THAAD issue is clear and consistent and is subject to no change,” the statement said, adding that THAAD deployment would not resolve South Korea’s security concerns but would make the situation more complex.
“We strongly urge both South Korea and the U.S. to acknowledge China’s concerns, stop the deployment process and withdraw the system.”
Seongju County residents in North Gyeongsang Province chant slogans, Sunday, in protest of President Moon Jae-in’s order to consult with the U.S. over the temporary deployment of four more launchers of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in addition to the currently operating two, following North Korea’s ballistic missile launch late Friday night.