The US antimissile defense system recently installed in South Korea on a golf course, is now operational, a US official confirmed on Monday.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, an American-made system to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles, was ready.
Reuters reported that the THAAD system would provide no defense for Japan and its US military bases, as it only covers a 200km range. Its radar however, has much greater range, which covers most of eastern China, including Beijing, China’s naval HQ, and most notably its Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. It also extends into eastern Russia.
THAAD now gives the US an unprecedented view of China as well as Russia, part of the motivation of setting up the system.
In South Korea the newest deployment could upset the upcoming presidential election. The expedited installation and activation of THAAD has become a major campaign issue, as disgruntled voters are now prepared to elect a leader that will force the US to retreat. Moon Jae-in has already warned that the moves had increased distrust of the US.
“It is not desirable for the [caretaker] South Korean government to deploy THAAD hastily at this politically sensitive time, with the presidential election approaching, and without going through the democratic process, an environmental assessment or a public hearing,” said Moon.
“Would it happen this way in the United States? Could the administration make a unilateral decision without following democratic procedures, without ratification or agreement by Congress?” South Koreans are furious about Trump’s threats to North Korea.
Anger has boiled over in Seosongri village since last week as militray contractors rushed to put key parts of THAAD into place, the Associated Press reported. Hundreds of banners on trees and fences along a kilometer were displayed, with slogans reading “Withdraw the illegal THAAD immediately” and “Stop US militarism”.
Media have questioned whether the United States and the current caretaker government that took over for ousted former President Park Geun-hye have conspired to complete THAAD in a rush before the election.
“If South Korea can have more time to process this matter democratically, the US will gain a higher level of trust from South Koreans and therefore the alliance between the two nations will become even stronger,” Moon explained.
The election is one week away, and so far analysts expect Moon to win. His contender, Ahn Cheol-soo, a software mogul who stood on a more centrist platform, is losing votes after the recent provocative moves from Washington.
The upcoming election could end up becoming a referendum on the US-South Korea relationship as voters became more inflamed after President Trump said he would make South Korea pay $1 billion for THAAD. Residents say at least 13 people were injured and had to be hospitalised after violent clashes last week between villagers and some 8 000 police officers.
Villagers showered the law enforcers with insults, calling them “dogs” and “Americans’ slaves”.
The missile shield the US intends to deploy in South Korea could be the first casualty in a US-China conflict, a former Chinese diplomat said, as the installation in Seongju, South Korea has outraged China. China is South Korea’s largest trade partner.
Concerned about its national security interests, China is displeased with the capabilities of the THAAD system’s X-band radar. “If the US and China fought in war, the first round of attack should include the X-band radar,” Yang Xiyu, a former Chinese foreign ministry official tasked with handling affairs on the Korean Peninsula and a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Yonhap News Agency on the sidelines of a seminar last year.
Yang warned that the relationship between China and South Korea will change in response to THAAD. “We had a very good relationship. But if the THAAD deployment will be brought about, the degree will change,” Yang commented. “We need to re-think the China-South Korea partnership.”
“China firmly opposes THAAD and we will take necessary measures to maintain the strategic balance,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang noted.
“We will pay close attention to the relevant actions of the US and ROK and will take necessary measures to maintain national strategic security as well as regional equilibrium,” Yang Yujun said in late July.