Defense minister refutes China's claim on THAAD

Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup speaks during a press conference at the Ministry of National Defense Convention in Seoul, Thursday. Courtesy of Ministry of National Defense

Seoul may ditch inter-Korean military pact in event of Pyongyang's nuclear test

By Kang Seung-woo

South Korea's defense minister said, Thursday, a U.S. anti-missile shield, currently deployed on the Korean Peninsula, cannot operate to Washington's advantage, rejecting China's claim that the system's radar can spy on its military maneuvers and undermine its security interests.

In addition, Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup vowed to speed up efforts to transform the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) base in South Korea into a permanent structure.

Since the establishment of the base in 2017 at a local golf course, hundreds of U.S. and South Korean service members stationed there have been using shipping containers and an old golf clubhouse, raising concerns over their poor living conditions.

The deployment of the THAAD battery has emerged as a hot-button issue between Seoul and Beijing, as evidenced by their foreign ministerial meeting, Tuesday, where it topped the agenda.

"The THAAD issue has to do with our security and sovereignty and China's assertion is not acceptable," Lee said during a press conference at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul.

"It seems more unreasonable if we change our THAAD plan due to China's protest."

His remarks came as the Chinese government urges the Yoon Suk-yeol administration to uphold the so-called "Three Nos" policy over the THAAD issue ― no additional deployments of the anti-missile system, no integration into a U.S.-led missile defense system and no trilateral alliance with the U.S. and Japan.

In response, the South Korean foreign ministry maintains that the preceding Moon Jae-in administration's Three Nos policy was not a commitment to China.

One Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launcher stands in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, in this July 29, 2017 photo. Yonhap

In addition, China now insists that the new South Korean government must also abide by the "One Restriction" policy of limiting the operation of THAAD here. China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, Wednesday, that Beijing attaches importance to the preceding government's position of the "Three Nos and One Restriction."

The defense minister flatly rejected China's claim that the THAAD radar is used as a tool to spy on its military activities amid its strategic competition with the United States.

"Based on the location of the THAAD radar, it cannot be used to defend the United States and it is only a means of defending South Korea," he said, explaining that a mountain stands between the base and China, blocking the radar's reach in that direction.

"We have already explained this to the Chinese side."

Also, the defense minister said the government will accelerate its efforts to normalize the THAAD base in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province.

A senior official of the presidential office said, later in the day, the normalization of the base will be completed by the end of August.

Amid growing speculation that North Korea's provocation is imminent, the defense minister said the existing inter-Korean military agreement cannot remain intact and in full unless Pyongyang fulfills it, indicating that a seventh nuclear test may lead to the cancelation of the pact.

The agreement, signed, Sept. 19, 2018, by the leaders of the two Koreas, calls for halting all hostile acts against each other to reduce tensions along the inter-Korean border.

"The Sept. 19 military agreement will have significance and last as long as the two Koreas observe it," Lee said.

However, Lee said whether to ditch the agreement was not a decision that the defense minister can make by himself, adding that it could be decided after collecting opinions from relevant government agencies, including the foreign ministry.

Kang Seung-woo

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