THAAD deployment reveals true intention of South Korean president

By Li Dunqiu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/20 22:38:39

South Korea almost finished deploying four more Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers at a US military base in the southeastern region of Seongju, a South Korean military source said on September 10. The missile interception system, composed of six launchers, 48 interceptors, an advanced mobile AN/TPY-2 radar and fire and control unit, will reportedly go into service in a few days.

THAAD deployment was almost complete when Moon Jae-in was sworn in as South Korean president in early May, three months earlier than expected. The installation indicates the new government has no less enthusiasm for the American initiative than the previous.

A renowned political figure, Moon is adept in the political arena. Since Moon came from the Liberal Democratic Party, many assumed he would pursue the policies and strategic thinking promoted by 2003-08 president Roh Moo-hyun. However, Moon is not fundamentally different from conservative 2013-17 Park Geun-hye in terms of governing directions and principles, diplomatic policies in particular.

Before taking power, Moon's stance was seemingly different from Park on the US and THAAD deployment. For example, he stressed South Korea should not always abide by US orders and the THAAD system should be deployed in accordance with legal procedures. In his inauguration on May 10, Moon vowed to sincerely consult with the US and China to resolve the THAAD issue. He told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a telephone call the following day that he understood China's interests and its deep concern over the THAAD system and would dispatch a delegation to visit Beijing to discuss THAAD and Korean Peninsula issues.

Moon's real motive was partly revealed when he ordered a probe on May 30 after the Defense Ministry failed to inform him that four more launchers for the controversial THAAD system had been brought into the country. He claimed the investigation was to find out the truth about why the four launchers were never reported to the people or the new government. In fact, the so-called probe was designed to mislead the public and downplay the THAAD issue. The same goes for his demand for a full-blown environmental impact assessment of the site where the THAAD system was to be deployed in June.

However, the truth came out after Chung Eui-yong, top national security advisor to Moon, told a news briefing on June 9 that South Korea does not aim to change its agreement with the US on the deployment of the THAAD system and it will continue to work closely with Washington. Since then, Moon and other top officials have publicly underlined the significance of THAAD deployment.

The Moon Jae-in government has followed the US in word and deed despite China's strong opposition to the THAAD system. In a telephone call on September 4, US President Donald Trump first enquired of Moon about the progress of THAAD deployment. Then he gave his in-principle approval to South Korea's initiative to lift restrictions on their missile payload capabilities. Three days later, South Korean protesters clashed with thousands of police as the four remaining launchers were transported to a base in Seongju where two launchers had already been deployed under the previous government's watch. Thus the THAAD system was almost completely installed in barely six months.

Against this backdrop, an increasing number of South Koreans have come to see what Moon is really about. On September 8, Moon released a document "The President's Position on THAAD Deployment," pushing ahead with deployment at the Seongju base as the best course of action available to the South Korean government in the current situation. The Bareun Party and Lee Jung-mi, leader of the Justice Party, criticized Moon's changing position.

Residents living near the site, together with peace activists, held a press conference to protest the deployment on the same day. Park Jung-eun, deputy secretary general of the liberal civic group People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, demanded a probe into illegalities possibly committed during the THAAD decision-making process.

Since Seoul and Washington agreed to deploy the THAAD system in South Korea on July 8, 2016, Beijing and Moscow have expressed strong opposition, but basically in vain. Instead of suspending the deployment, the new South Korean government speeded up the process.

Under such circumstances, China can work with Russia to remove the THAAD system through political, economic and military means. The THAAD issue should be included in resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council on the Korean Peninsula. Its resolutions involving the removal of the THAAD system from South Korea should be implemented comprehensively with no alternative.

The author is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Korean Studies, Zhejiang University.


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