May 30, 2019 13:35
The U.S. urged Korea to finish the incomplete setup of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery and facilities here during defense talks in Washington in late April, a military spokesman here said Wednesday.
Completion of the U.S. Forces Korea project, which brought heavy economic retaliations from China for Korea, has been in limbo since 2017 amid protracted protests from locals and activists and a government reassessment.
"The U.S. several times in the course of the two-day talks demanded that Korea help finish the setup," the spokesman said. "But Korean delegates only said that it needs to follow democratic process, including an assessment of its environmental effects on the region."
The Park Geun-hye administration hastily pushed through the stationing of the THAAD battery in 2016, bypassing the regulatory process which requires an environmental impact assessment.
The battery was partly set up but still runs on a diesel generator because it could not be connected to the grid, and facilities for USFK personnel are rudimentary.
But now the U.S. is embroiled in a nascent cold war with China, it seems keen to complete the installation, which angered Beijing because it claims that the battery's powerful radar could be used to spy on its military maneuvers.
Washington has also recently pushed Seoul to join its anti-Huawei campaign and support military maneuvers in the South China Sea to curb China's territorial expansionism there.
But a senior government official who attended the defense talks downplayed Washington's demand, saying, "Yes, THAAD came up in the talks, but U.S. military officers have been talking about that for a long time."
U.S. soldiers currently live and eat at the remodeled clubhouse of the old golf course at the THAAD site and the access road remains blocked by a dozen demonstrators. Diesel for the generator has to be flown in by helicopter three times a week.
Meanwhile, the environmental study is dragging on, perhaps deliberately so South Korea does not have to come off the fence.
Soldiers use containers as temporary sleeping quarters, and the military here is considering allowing more supplies to be brought in overland. "The military is trying to improve U.S. troops' quality of life at the site," a Defense Ministry spokesperson said. "Close consultations between the two countries is underway."
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