South Korea’s military and Lotte Group on Tuesday officially signed a contract to exchange the land needed to station a US missile defense system here, boosting efforts to accelerate the deployment despite mounting pushback from China.
In a written statement, the Ministry of Defense said the military had concluded the land-swap deal with Lotte Group, who handed over its golf course in the southeastern rural country of Seongju to host the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system and received a state-owned military site near Seoul in return.
A blueprint of the THAAD battery (Yonhap)
Following the announcement, the ministry vowed to move up the deployment of THAAD and complete the process as soon as possible, although it did not offer a specific timeline. In November, Vincent Brooks, commander of the US Forces Korea, said the missile defense system would be deployed as early as July.
“Now that we have finalized the land-swap deal, we will make various efforts to deploy the THAAD battery as soon as possible,” said the ministry’s spokesman Moon Sang-kyun. “Given that we are a month behind schedule, we will do our best to move up the timeline.”
The military and Lotte Group were initially expected to sign the deal in January, but delayed the move due to the conglomerate’s concerns over its business in China. China objects to THAAD due to worries its X-band radar could be used to spy in its territory. Lotte’s board approved the deal a day earlier.
On Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang warned Seoul and Washington that they would face “consequences” should the deployment proceed. In recent months, Beijing has stepped up retaliatory measures against South Korean companies operating in China.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry criticized the Chinese move as “detrimental” to its economic ties with Beijing, Seoul’s biggest trading partner, on Tuesday. The ministry said it would conduct a legal review to see if the measure violates its bilateral trade agreement with China or the World Trade Organization Agreement.
“In light of common understanding that we need to promote relations between Korea and China, such measure is not helpful to the bilateral relations,” said Cho June-hyuck, spokesman at the Foreign Ministry. “We will maintain our principle to take sovereign, self-defense measures.”
Now that the land-swap deal is over, the Defense Ministry said, the military will kick off bilateral consultations this week to hand over the newly acquired site to the USFK, which is governed by the ROK-US Status of Forces Agreement.
The bilateral process involve mapping out a battery site, setting up military facilities and carrying out inspections of the battery’s environmental impacts, which will be finished in May or June, according to the military.
“There will be flexibility in the pending procedures, such as the environmental inspection. They will proceed in a simultaneous manner, so it is hard to tell exactly when each procedure will be finished,” said Moon.
Meanwhile, a group of residents in Seongju who oppose the THAAD deployment pledged to protest the measure, saying they will take “legal and physical” means to scuttle the plan. As of Tuesday afternoon, there had been no reports of violence.
The military has constructed barbed-wire fences around the planned THAAD battery site and dispatched security to block the protestors’ access to the site. It used choppers to deliver construction materials.
Designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles during their terminal phase of flight after detecting the missiles with a land-based radar system, a THAAD battery consists of six truck-mounted launchers, 48 interceptors, a fire control and communications unit and an AN/TPY-2 radar.
By Yeo Jun-suk (email@example.com