Reuters reports the Department of Defense has started moving parts of an anti-missile defense system to a deployment site in South Korea on Wednesday.
The move, which comes on the heals of mounting tension over North Korea’s belligerent stance on nuclear weapons development, is triggering protests from villagers and criticism from China.
The earlier-than-expected steps to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is also being denounced by the frontrunner in South Korea’s presidential election scheduled for May 9, Reuters reports.
The South Korean ministry released a statement regarding the deployment.
“South Korea and the United States have been working to secure an early operational capability of the THAAD system in response to North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threat,” the statement read.
According to a DoD release, the ROK and the United States made the alliance decision to deploy THAAD on July 7, 2016.
The decision was made after a land transfer, in Seongju county of Gyeongsangbuk-do from the Lotte Group to the Republic of Korea government, supporting the alliance’s decision to deploy THAAD. The DoD says THAAD’s deployment is a critical measure to defend the ROK people and alliance forces against North Korean missile threats.
The anti-missile battery is expected to be operational by the end of the year, according to the ROK ministry statement.
China feels the deployment encroaches on its sovereignty and is urging the ROK and U.S. to rethink their decision. China contends THAAD’s advanced radar can penetrate deep into its territory and undermine its security, while it will do little to deter the North, and is adamant in its opposition.
“China strongly urges the United States and South Korea to stop actions that worsen regional tensions and harm China’s strategic security interests and cancel the deployment of the THAAD system and withdraw the equipment,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said during a briefing.
“China will resolutely take necessary steps to defend its interests,” Geng said, without elaborating.
Asia Times reports a Chinese state-run newspaper said Saturday that China would not engage militarily if the U.S. conducted a surgical strike on North Korea’s nuclear facility, noting it would only resort to diplomatic channels to oppose such a move.
State-run Global Times said in a translated quote provided by Asia Times, “If Pyongyang’s unwavering pursuit of its nuclear program continues, and Washington launches a military attack on North Korea’s nuclear facilities as a result, Beijing should oppose the move by diplomatic channels, rather than get involved through military action,” the translated editorial says.
Reuters reports the DoD began moving the first elements of the system to South Korea in March after the North tested four ballistic missiles.
Recent television footage showed military trailers carrying equipment, including what appeared to be launch canisters, to the deployment site.
Protesters shouted and hurled water bottles at the vehicles over lines of police holding them back, Reuters reports.
The liberal politician expected to win South Korea’s election in May, Moon Jae-in, is calling for a delay in the deployment, saying the new administration should make a decision after gathering public opinion and after more talks with Washington.
A spokesman for Moon said moving the parts to the site “ignored public opinion and due process,” and demanded it be suspended.
Protestors are vowing block THAAD’s installation and vow to continue fighting.
More than 10 protesters were injured, some of them with fractures, in clashes with police, Kim Jong-kyung, a leader of villagers opposing the deployment, tells Reuters.
Kim said about 200 protesters rallied overnight, and they will continue their opposition.
“There’s still time for THAAD to be actually up and running so we will fight until equipment is withdrawn from the site and ask South Korea’s new government to reconsider,” Kim told Reuters by telephone.
North Korea said in a recent U.N. Security Council meeting the United States was “not morally entitled” to force members states to impose sanctions on the country.
“It is a wild dream for the U.S. to think of depriving the DPRK of its nuclear deterrent through military threat and sanctions. It is just like sweeping the sea with a broom,” North’s KCNA cited a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.
Reuters reports China’s envoy on North Korea, Wu Dawei, met his Japanese counterpart, Kenji Kanasugi, for talks in Tokyo, and they agreed they would “respond firmly” to any further North Korean provocation, Japan’s foreign ministry said.
“We are against anything that might lead to war or chaos,” Wu said.
The U.S. and China are working closely to try to “get this under control and aim for the denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said April 18.
He also noted North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch is an attempt to “provoke” and underscores why the United States is working with the Chinese government to keep the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free.
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