] The issue surrounding the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system is becoming a serious bone of contention in East Asia as well as on the Korean Peninsula after Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, was announced this week as the site that will host a THAAD battery.
South Korea’s government has faced a dual task in resolving the backlash from domestic opponents, including Seongju residents, and neighboring countries such as China.
The government should be aware that the problem has snowballed due to its lack of prior efforts to persuade the adjacent major powers -- China and Russia -- and Korean citizens before announcing the deployment last Friday and the chosen site on Tuesday.
In the face of pressure from the U.S., Korea’s Defense Ministry should have informed neighboring countries in detail of why it thought hosting THAAD on the peninsula was an appropriate action. Irrespective of the countries’ arguments, it was crucial for the government to clarify the target -- North Korea -- of the missile defense system.
Certainly, China would believe that the THAAD deployment by the U.S. military is intended to oversee military movements by Beijing as well as those in Pyongyang.
Excuses from Seoul and attempts at placating Beijing are ineffective, as they come after the deployment announcement.
Domestically, the government failed to show integrity on the issue, as some senior officials had flip-flopped on it. Citizens were inevitably unsure of whether Washington would really deploy the system.
Now, even some ruling party lawmakers are protesting the move.
A group of Saenuri Party lawmakers, whose constituencies are in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province are demanding the government reveal its criteria for choosing the region. They are also urging military and defense agencies to communicate more with residents before pushing ahead with the plan.
While there is a widespread public perception that the system could have negative environmental and health impacts, the government’s attempts to soothe these concerns only started after the announcement last week.
Prominent Saenuri lawmaker Choi Kyung-hwan, who endorses the THAAD deployment, said Friday that he opposed the idea of the southern region housing a THAAD artillery unit, and that he had relayed his opposition to President Park Geun-hye.
Choi warned that the move would cause the party to lose more support from conservative residents, who were also recently outraged by a government decision to forgo building a new airport in the southeastern region.
The Park administration faces an awkward situation, under which residents are expressing anger, as they argue that “the government’s compensation for voters who gave the conservatives most of their votes is THAAD.”
The government cannot escape suspicion that it conducted low-key negotiations with a foreign country with little communication with the public this time and in several previous diplomatic policies. There is an urgent need to address these concerns.
The situation is quite unfavorable to the government, and policymakers should carry out full-fledged efforts to minimize side effects in the coming months. Sincere persuasion toward citizens and neighboring countries should begin as soon as possible.
Given the need to secure the close alliance with the U.S., the THAAD deployment is necessary for our national security. Opponents should also step back from their opposition for the sake of opposition.
Military readiness in firm coordination with the U.S. must be prioritized as the North would not stop its provocations involving the missile launch.