Decision to deploy THAAD in S.Korea triggers controversy over regional tension, effectiveness

Source:Xinhua Published: 2016/7/8 16:32:55

The decision between South Korea and the United States to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) on Friday triggered various controversies as it causes regional tensions and strong oppositions from people living in candidate sites amid remaining doubts about its military effectiveness.

Military authorities of the two allies jointly made an official announcement earlier in the day to deploy the U.S. missile defense system in the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), some two years after the USFK commander took issue with the need for the THAAD deployment on the Korean peninsula.

The two allies claimed that the U.S. interceptors will target the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s nuclear and missile threats alone, not any other third country, but it caused strong backlashes from neighboring countries and deepened worries among politicians about regional tensions.

China's foreign ministry said in a statement Friday that the Chinese side is "strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposes to" the THAAD deployment in South Korea as the deployment is not conducive to achieving denuclearization on the peninsula and maintaining its peace and stability.

Russia has repeatedly expressed opposition to the deployment, with Alexander Timonin, Russian Ambassador to South Korea, saying in February that the U.S. missile defense system would neither lend any support to peace and stability in Northeast Asia, nor any benefit to resolving nuclear issues on the peninsula.

South Korean politicians said the THAAD deployment will heighten regional tensions, rather than helping resolve the peninsula's nuclear issue. The minor opposition Justice Party said the decision will certainly cause a more dangerous security crisis in the region than the DPRK's missile crisis as it came amid strong oppositions from China and Russia, calling for the withdrawal of the decision.

People's Party, which plays a casting vote between ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition Minju Party, expressed its clear opposition to the THAAD deployment, saying the South Korean government had easefully dealt with China's oppositions. It noted Seoul should have considered more deeply the possible economic effects from the worsening relations with China.

Following the THAAD announcement, shares of South Korean companies which depend heavily on Chinese consumers and travelers for revenue, fell sharply. LG Household & Health Care tumbled 4.5 percent, with leading cosmetics maker Amore Pacific plunging 4.7 percent. Travel agency shares, including Hanatour Service and Modetour Network, also lost ground.

The governing party expressed support for the THAAD deployment, saying it would tackle the DPRK's nuclear and missile threats, including the recent test-launches of Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Pyongyang said last month that it had succeeded in test-firing the missile for the first time, threatening U.S. military bases in Guam and Japan as well as in South Korea. The missile, known to be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, is fired from a mobile launcher, making it hard to detect and track in times of emergency.


China and Russia have opposed to the THAAD deployment in South Korea as the U.S. missile defense system far exceeds the country's actual defense needs and directly threatens the strategic security interests of the two neighboring countries.

The THAAD's radar can locate missiles far beyond the DPRK territory. The X-band radar can spot missile as far as 2,000 km with forward-based mode and 600 km with terminal mode. As the two have the same hardware, the terminal mode, which South Korea allegedly plans to adopt, can be transformed into the radar with a much longer detectable range.

Military effectiveness of the THAAD operation in the South Korean soil has been in doubt as the advanced U.S. missile defense system is designed to track and destroy missiles at a high altitude of 40-150 km. Hundreds of DPRK missiles targeting South Korea will fly at a much lower altitude of less than 20 km.

One THAAD battery would be deployed in U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) stationed in South Korea by the end of next year, after designating the deployment site within weeks. A battery is composed of six mobile launchers, 48 interceptors, airborne radar and fire control system.

The main opposition Minju Party said the deployment would not be in the national interests of South Korea, citing lack of sufficient preparations for diplomatic frictions with China and Russia, and the ensuing economic losses. China is South Korea's largest trading partner.

The opposition party also worried about anti-American sentiment heightening among South Korean people living in candidate sites. Social conflicts are expected at home as the THAAD's radar emits super-strong microwave detrimental to humans and electronic devices.

If the radar is deployed northward, it will inevitably face a densely populated region. Forced deployment will cause harsh backlashes from people living in candidate cities and may kindle anti-U.S. sentiment. 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.

The governor of North Gyeongsang province, one of the candidate sites and the traditional home turf for the ruling party, said that if the site is decided upon without fair and transparent procedures, he and his provincial people will not sit idle with it. He expressed deep concerns about his province having been repeatedly cited as a candidate site.

People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), a local activist group, said in a statement that the THAAD deployment decision represents an official announcement to speed up arms race in East Asia, and that possibility gets high for the deployment to cost South Korea the peninsula's peace and people's security as well as economic losses.

The PSPD said the effectiveness of the still unverified THAAD should be discussed, calling for making public the standards on which Seoul and Washington will choose an optimal site for the THAAD deployment in terms of environment, the health and safety of people as well as the military effectiveness. 

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