U.S., South Korea Agree on Deploying Advanced Antimissile System
Deployment of Thaad system, meant to counter threat from North Korea, comes over strong objections from China, Russia
A Thaad interceptor launching from a battery on Wake Island in a test last November.PHOTO: BEN LISTERMAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Washington and Seoul agreed to deploy an advanced U.S. missile-defense system in South Korea—over strong opposition from China—to counter the threat from North Korea.
The agreement on a deployment by late next year was announced jointly Friday by Seoul’s defense ministry and a U.S. military command stationed in South Korea.
“North Korea’s continued development of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction require the Alliance to take this prudent, protective measure to bolster our layered and effective missile defense,” Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who commands combined U.S.-South Korean forces, said in a statement.
The planned deployment of the Thaad system—for Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense—underscores the U.S. “ironclad commitment” to defend South Korea, the U.S. statement said. The two Koreas technically remain at war, the 1950-53 Korean War having ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. The U.S., which led the fight in that war after the North invaded, still stations 28,500 troops in the South.
After months of negotiations the U.S. and South Korean governments are in a final stage of selecting a location in the southern part of the peninsula, a spokesman at Seoul’s defense ministry said.
In addition to China, Russia and North Korea, opponents of the deployment of the Thaad system include these South Korean protesters, rallying in front of the Defense Ministry in Seoul on Friday.PHOTO: LEE JIN-MAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The issue of Thaad in South Korea has been sensitive beyond the peninsula—opposed not only by North Korea but also China and Russia, which see deploying the antimissile system in the region as undermining their own security. The U.S. and South Korea, apparently seeking to allay these concerns, reaffirmed in their official statements that the system “will be focused solely on North Korean missile threats” and “will not be directed towards any other third-party nations.”
In a statement posted on its website Friday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with and “firm opposition” to deploying the missile-defense system, saying the decision had been made without regard for the views of China and other countries in the region.
In the statement, China warned that Thaad would hinder denuclearization on the Korean peninsula and contribute to regional instability, and called on the U.S. and South Korea not to deploy.
Observers say Beijing is anxious about the range of the system’s radar, capable of reaching deep into China.
Relations between North Korea and China, its biggest trading partner and aid donor, have soured over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests—but analysts say Beijing still cherishes North Korea as a bulwark to keep U.S. power in the region from expanding to its doorstep. In recent months, Beijing and Pyongyang have worked to mend ties.
South Korea and China are linked by growing economic ties, but Seoul has said that given the immediate and constant threat from North Korea, it won’t compromise on public safety. The new U.S. missile-defense system is “a defensive measure to ensure the security of the South and its people” as well as to protect the alliance, said the defense ministry in Seoul.