The Ministry of National Defense has secured a golf course as the site to host a US anti-missile system here.
The ministry Tuesday signed a contract with Lotte International to swap military land for the golf course. It reportedly seeks to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery quickly, expecting to complete the installation as early as May.
The plan seems to be based on the consideration of the Constitutional Court’s decision on the presidential impeachment motion -- expected to come before March 13 -- and the possibility of an early presidential election if the court upholds the motion. If it approves the impeachment, the nation has 60 days to elect the next president.
However, it is a pity that politics has influenced the schedule of a security project to deploy defense equipment to intercept missiles from North Korea in times of war.
In response to the land-swap deal, Chinese news media have slandered Lotte and South Korea, as expected.
“The decision to offer land for the missile shield could turn into a nightmare for Lotte, which depends heavily on Chinese tourists to South Korea for revenue from duty-free stores,” China’s official Xinhua news agency said. “Lotte may have to take a large portion of responsibility.”
“By agreeing to the THAAD deployment, South Korea has turned itself into a powder keg,” the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, said.
“If THAAD is really deployed in South Korea, then China-South Korea relations will face the possibility of getting ready to cut off diplomatic relations,” the WeChat account of the overseas edition of the People’s Daily said.
State-run Chinese tabloid Global Times said China should show Lotte the door as a warning to other Korean companies. “South Korean cars and cellphones should be targeted. There are many substitutes for them,” it said.
Despite these threats, Lotte decided to approve the land-swap deal for the national interests of South Korea. It deserves to be applauded. The government should not let the company suffer the aftereffects of the deal. Seoul should try to persuade Beijing lest the deployment of the system damages Lotte and other companies.
Lotte runs about 120 stores in China with a combined annual sales of 3.2 trillion won ($2.8 billion). It has invested 10 trillion won in China. Some 20,000 Chinese people are employed by 24 Lotte Group affiliates.
Taking it out on Lotte will get China nowhere. The THAAD issue has gotten out of hand, as it is an issue of national security, not business.
North Korea is getting bolder in its provocations. It recently fired a ballistic missile and hired people to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of its leader Kim Jong-un. These make Beijing’s opposition to THAAD in South Korea less justifiable.
The missile interception system is an inevitable choice for South Korea to protect its people from North Korea’s missile attacks. If not for such weapons of mass destruction in the North, the South would have no reason to insist on hosting THAAD.
Basically, deploying the system is a matter of South Korean self-defense. If China thinks the move will hurt its interests, it should not take it out on the company that sold its golf course to the military, but should instead follow diplomatic customs.
Internally, South Korea is not without anxiety regarding the anti-missile system. Although the government has secured land for THAAD and is about to start preparations in earnest, some opposition politicians still argue the matter should be left to the next government. The practicality of such an argument at this stage and in light of the Korea-US alliance, North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and international sanctions on Pyongyang is questionable.
If they start over again or try to undo the project, can they really withstand pressure from both Washington and Beijing?
If they truly believe they can better handle China’s opposition to THAAD diplomatically as they have vowed, they should show how they would do so before the presidential election.