August 12, 2022 13:20
The government on Thursday responded defiantly to claims from China that it made promises over the U.S.' Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery stationed here.
A senior official in the presidential office said the THAAD battery, which has been running in emergency mode due to lack of access to the site "will probably be fully normalized around later this month."
"THAAD is clearly a matter of self-defense aimed at protecting the people's lives and safety from North Korea's nuclear and missile threats and a matter of national security and sovereignty that can never be subject to negotiation," he added.
The U.S. State Department also jumped into the breach, saying it is inappropriate for China to "pressure or criticize" South Korea into abandoning its self-defense.
On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin claimed that Beijing had been given assurances when the two countries' foreign ministers met early this week that Korea would stick to the "three no's" -- no additional deployment of THAAD batteries, no South Korean integration into a U.S.-led regional missile defense system, and no trilateral military alliance with the U.S. and Japan, while restricting the operation of the THAAD battery that is already here.
Beijing is officially worried that the battery's powerful radar in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province could be used to spy on its military activities. But that is essentially shadow boxing since there exist plenty of other surveillance capabilities and the THAAD batteries stationed in Japan have never troubled it.
Pundits speculate that the likeliest reason for the kerfuffle is that China wants to assert its clout over neighboring countries, especially now that a visit to Seoul by Chinese President Xi Jinping is on the cards.
However, the "three no's" did look deceptively like a pledge by the former Moon Jae-in administration aimed at ending an unofficial Chinese boycott in 2017, even though ambiguous wording was used in government statements here at the time.
Both current and former government officials deny that the Moon administration made any promises. "The 'three no's policy' is neither an agreement nor a treaty, but merely a position the former government took. In that regard, there is no reason we should abide by," another senior official in the presidential office said. A former Moon administration official also told the Chosun Ilbo that the Moon administration "never promised the 'three no's" to the Chinese government."
Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup also came out fighting. "The deployment of the THAAD battery is a matter of national security and sovereignty. Its deployment is purely aimed at protecting our people. It would be odd if we don't [make it work] just because of opposition from China."
The THAAD battery is in legal limbo because a mandatory environmental impact assessment was skipped by the Park Geun-hye administration when it hastily agreed to its deployment here in April 2017. That still needs to happen before the base can become fully operational. Lee told reporters that the assessment team is "in the final stages" of being assembled.
But the presidential office has hinted that it will give the U.S. Forces Korea and personnel unlimited access to the base so they can bring in supplies seven days a week instead of the current five days.
The road is being formally blocked by a handful of local protesters, who regularly make way for convoys to get through, but at one stage fuel had to be flown in by helicopter and U.S. soldiers were camping out in the former golf club's clubhouse and subsisting on battle rations.
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