U.S. starts de­ploy­ing mis­sile shield in S. Korea

Re­sponse to North Korea’s mis­sile tests be­gins a new nu­clear arms race, China says in de­cry­ing move.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - Gerry Mullany and Chris Buck­ley

HONG KONG — The United States said Tues­day it had be­gun de­ploy­ing an ad­vanced and con­tentious mis­sile de­fense sys­tem in South Korea, prompt­ing China to warn of a new atomic arms race in a re­gion in­creas­ingly on edge over North Korea’s drive to build a nu­clear arse­nal.

The U.S. an­nounce­ment came a day af­ter the si­mul­ta­ne­ous launch of four mis­siles by North Korea into waters off the Ja­panese coast, which Py­ongyang said was a drill for strik­ing U.S. bases in Ja­pan. The feat, footage of which was broad­cast on state tele­vi­sion, raised con­cern about the North’s abil­ity to over­whelm the new de­fense sys­tem be­ing de­ployed.

Hours later, North Korea fur­ther un­nerved the re­gion by declar­ing it was block­ing all Malaysians from leav­ing its soil, sharply es­ca­lat­ing a dis­pute over last month’s as­sas­si­na­tion of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s dic­ta­tor, Kim Jong Un, at the Kuala Lumpur air­port.

Malaysia has ac­cused sev­eral North Korean cit­i­zens of us­ing VX nerve agent to kill Kim Jong Nam in a case that has re­minded the world of Py­ongyang’s ac­cess to a stock­pile of banned chem­i­cal weapons on top of its nu­clear pro­gram — and its will­ing­ness to take ex­treme mea­sures.

The flurry of de­vel­op­ments height­ened anx­i­ety in Asia over signs that Py­ongyang is clos­ing in on its goal of de­vel­op­ing an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­sile that can de­liver a nu­clear pay­load to the United States — and what the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion might do to pre­vent it. And they came as the U.S. and South Korea par­tic­i­pated in largescale mil­i­tary ex­er­cises that North Korea has con­demned.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity deputies have dis­cussed both the pos­si­bil­ity of pre-emp­tive strikes that would al­most cer­tainly pro­voke an at­tack on South Korea and a rein­tro­duc­tion of nu­clear weapons to the South. In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials say North Korea is al­ready able to hit much of South Korea and Ja­pan with nu­clear-tipped mis­siles.

A spokesman for the Chi­nese Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs, Geng Shuang, de­nounced the U.S.’ de­ci­sion to de­ploy the Ter­mi­nal High Alti­tude Area De­fense sys­tem, or THAAD, and vowed that Bei­jing would “take the nec­es­sary steps to safe­guard our own se­cu­rity in­ter­ests.”

“The con­se­quences will be shoul­dered by the United States and South Korea,” Geng added, warn­ing that the two coun­tries should not “go fur­ther and fur­ther down the wrong road.”

The United States’ de­ci­sion to de­ploy the mis­sile tech­nol­ogy brought new scru­tiny to China’s poli­cies to­ward North and South Korea and sug­gested that its at­tempts to please both coun­tries in hopes of avert­ing a cri­sis had fallen short.

“To put it bluntly us­ing a com­mon Chi­nese ex­pres­sion, it has wanted to have a foot in two boats,” said Deng Yuwen, a cur­rent af­fairs com­men­ta­tor in Bei­jing who has sharply crit­i­cized North Korea.

Yang Xiyu, a for­mer se­nior Chi­nese of­fi­cial who once over­saw talks with North Korea, said China was wor­ried that the de­ploy­ment of the sys­tem would open the door to a broader U.S. net­work of anti-mis­sile sys­tems in the re­gion, pos­si­bly in places like Ja­pan and the Philip­pines, to counter China’s grow­ing mil­i­tary as much as North Korea.

“China can see ben­e­fits only for a U.S. re­gional plan, not for South Korea’s na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­est,” he said.

The de­vel­op­ments come as South Korea is con­sumed by tur­moil over the im­peach­ment of Pres­i­dent Park Ge­un­hye, whose ad­min­is­tra­tion agreed to the THAAD de­ploy­ment. But with the pres­i­dent fac­ing pos­si­ble re­moval from of­fice over a cor­rup­tion scan­dal, the fate of the sys­tem has been in doubt. Its ac­cel­er­ated de­ploy­ment could make it harder, if not im­pos­si­ble, for her suc­ces­sor to head off its in­stal­la­tion.

Moon Jae-in, an op­po­si­tion leader who is the front-run­ner in the race to re­place Park, ac­knowl­edged that it would be dif­fi­cult to over­turn South Korea’s agree­ment to de­ploy the sys­tem. But he has in­sisted that the next South Korean gov­ern­ment should have the fi­nal say on the mat­ter, say­ing Park’s gov­ern­ment never al­lowed a full de­bate on it.

Un­der its deal with Wash­ing­ton, South Korea is pro­vid­ing the land for the mis­sile sys­tem and will build the base, but the U.S. will pay for the sys­tem, to be built by Lock­heed Martin, as well as its op­er­a­tional costs.

A C-17 cargo plane landed at the U.S. mil­i­tary’s Osan Air Base, about 40 miles south of Seoul, on Mon­day evening, car­ry­ing two trucks, each mounted with a THAAD launch­pad. More equip­ment and per­son­nel will start ar­riv­ing in the com­ing weeks, South Korean mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said.

The South Korean De­fense Min­istry de­clined to spec­ify when the sys­tem would be op­er­a­tional. But the South Korean news agency Yon­hap re­ported that the de­ploy­ment was likely to be com­pleted in one or two months, with the sys­tem ready for use by April.

Paul Haenle, di­rec­tor of the Carnegie-Ts­inghua Cen­ter at Ts­inghua Univer­sity in Bei­jing, said pol­i­cy­mak­ers in China had failed to grasp how Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies re­garded North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram as get­ting closer to a dan­ger­ous thresh­old of be­ing able to place a war­head on an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile that could hit U.S. cities.

“That’s a game-changer,” said Haenle, who was di­rec­tor for China on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil un­der Pres­i­dents Ge­orge W. Bush and Barack Obama.

China has long op­posed U.S. mis­sile de­fenses, in part be­cause of fears that they might em­bolden Amer­i­can de­ci­sion-mak­ers to con­sider a first strike to de­stroy China’s small nu­clear arse­nal.

KRT / VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

North Korea launches four mis­siles from an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in this image taken from video by KRT, Py­ongyang’s state-run tele­vi­sion sta­tion. North Korea said the move was a drill for strik­ing U.S. bases in Ja­pan.

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