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S.Korea seeks to defend THAAD deployment despite oppositions at home, abroad

By Yoo Seungki

South Korean government officials on Monday sought to tout the need for deploying the U.S. missile defense system, called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), in its territory despite oppositions and controversies at home and abroad.

President Park Geun-hye told a meeting with her senior advisors that the THAAD deployment would be a defensive measure to protect her country from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s nuclear and missile threats. Park said the U.S. interceptors will neither target any third-party nations nor infringe on security interests of any other country.

Her comments came amid strong oppositions from neighboring countries. China and Russiahave opposed to the THAAD deployment on the South Korean soil as its X-band radar can spot Chinese and Russian territories.

Seoul has claimed that it will adopt the terminal mode radar with a maximum detectable range of 600 km, but it can be converted at any time into the forward-based mode as the two modes use the same hardware. The forward-based mode can range targets as far as 2,000 km.

The THAAD will be operated by U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) no matter where it is deployed, and the operation will not be made transparent. The deployment itself would mean South Korea joins the U.S. missile defense program, a part of U.S. Pivot-to-Asia strategy.

It is absurd to say that the THAAD deployment can help prevent the DPRK from conducting another nuclear test or test-firing ballistic missiles. The DPRK test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in a show of force on Saturday, a day after the decision was made to deploy U.S. interceptors.

The Korean People's Army said in a warning, carried on Monday by the official KCNA news agency, that it will take"physical measures"once the THAAD location is decided upon. The decision would raise tensions further on the Korean Peninsula.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo said during a report to the parliamentary defense committee that where to deploy the THAAD is in the process of making a final decision among candidate sites, indicating the site nearing to a final conclusion.

Among potential sites are Pyeongtaek in Gyeonggi province, Wonju in Gangwon province, Eumseong in South Chungcheong province, Gunsan in North Jeolla province and Chilgok in North Gyeongsang province.

People living in the candidate sites expressed strong oppositions to the deployment in their hometown as the THAAD radar emits super-strong microwave detrimental to human body. Locals rallied nationwide in protest, while lawmakers claimed their respective candidate constituencies are not suitable for the deployment.

The governor of North Gyeongsang province, one of the candidate sites and the traditional home turf for the ruling party, said on Friday that if the site is decided upon without fair and transparent procedures, he and his provincial people will not sit idle with it.

If the THAAD radar is deployed northward, it will inevitably face a densely populated region. Forced deployment could cause public backlashes and may even kindle anti-American sentiment.

Due to potential harms, the U.S. Army deployed its THAAD batteries in Guam, surrounded by sea, and in the middle of deserts in Texas. One of the batteries in Texas is expected to be moved to South Korea by the end of next year.

Opinions on the political scene remained split. The ruling Saenuri Party continued to argue for the need to deploy U.S. interceptors, but the minor People's Party, which plays a casting vote between the ruling party and the main opposition Minju Party, has persistently opposed to it.

The Minju Party indicated the deployment causing more losses than gains, citing strong oppositions from China and Russia.

Defense Minister Han, however, showed a neglecting attitude toward the oppositions, saying during the parliamentary defense committee meeting that the THAAD deployment will not depend on response or oppositions from neighboring countries.

[ Editor: meng ]