S. Korean opposition party demands delay in THAAD
December 12, 2016
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s main opposition party demanded Tuesday that the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system be delayed until the crisis surrounding the president’s impeachment is resolved.
Washington and Seoul have agreed to station a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in a remote southeastern region to counter the growing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea.
The commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Gen. Vincent Brooks, who has said the THAAD would be deployed in eight to 10 months, told the Yonhap News Agency he doesn’t expect any delays.
The project has been plagued by local protests that have forced the military to change the site. It also faces opposition from South Korea’s powerful trading partner China, which fears the powerful radar could be used against its own military.
U.S. and South Korean military officials have said they hope to have the anti-missile battery in place as early as June. A South Korean military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said Tuesday that the plans would go ahead as scheduled despite the Democratic Party’s statement. U.S. Forces Korea said it would not comment on South Korea’s internal political discussions.
“The schedule must be reviewed. An administration impeached by the people cannot push forward the project,” the Democratic Party said in a statement.
President Park Geun-hye was impeached Friday over an influence-peddling and corruption scandal. The prime minister took over as interim leader while the Constitutional Court reviews the case. If the court confirms the impeachment, then a new election must be held within 60 days.
Anticipating that would be the outcome, the Democratic Party said the decision on whether to deploy the THAAD should be left to the next administration.
It also noted the uncertainty surrounding the policies of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, saying South Korea should tread carefully because his administration was likely to have an “icy relationship” with Beijing.
The Democratic Party warned that the THAAD’s deployment would lead to a decrease in Chinese tourists, who are vital to South Korea’s economy. It did not announce any concrete actions aimed at forcing a delay.
In addition to concerns about China, many members of South Korea’s opposition parties favor a softer approach to North Korea that could include unconditional talks. Park’s administration worked closely with the United States to pursue tighter economic sanctions and rejected a resumption of negotiations unless Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons program.
Tensions on the divided peninsula have risen sharply this year as the North has conducted two underground nuclear tests and launched two dozen ballistic missiles into the sea.
Brooks made his comment about the THAAD when asked if he expected the political crisis to affect the deployment.
“I don’t expect any delays,” he said after meeting with Defense Minister Han Min-koo, according to Yonhap. He also was quoted as saying the U.S. will consider deterrence measures, including the deployment of other strategic assets to the peninsula.
The U.S. has 28,500 servicemembers stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.
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