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American missile defense system in South Korea cleared for full deployment despite China’s outrage: report

A U.S. missile defense system in South Korea that has drawn condemnation from China has been cleared for full deployment, according to a report. 

Last week, South Korea’s defense and environmental ministries conducted a review that cleared the way for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, the Wall Street Journal reported. The U.S. Department of Defense says THAAD “gives the Ballistic Missile Defense System a globally transportable, rapidly deployable ability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight.” 

In 2017, a battery for the THAAD – which would give South Korea and the U.S. capability to shoot down short- and medium-range missiles on the downward part of the trajectory but while still relatively far from the intended target – was installed in the heart of South Korea on a closed golf course. South Korea’s environmental review halted a complete deployment of THAAD at the time amid concerns from local residents by the base. 

The latest review, however, concluded that health risks posed by electromagnetic waves from the THAAD battery were insignificant, allowing work on the system to continue, with possible full deployment within the next year, the Journal reported.

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THAAD photo from Defense Department

A U.S. Defense Department photo showing Terminal High Altitude Area Defense element which gives the Ballistic Missile Defense System a globally transportable, rapidly deployable ability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles. (Missile Defense Agency/ US Department of Defense)

The move, which came amid a series of North Korea weapons and ballistic missile tests, drew outrage from China and Russia, which condemned a potential deployment of THAAD as national security threats given the capability of the American system’s radar can stretch to both communist nations. 

Go Myong-Hyun, a senior fellow at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank based in Seoul, told the Journal that a complete rollout of THAAD would involve building permanent support facilities to support soldiers and hardware, and allowing American military personnel daily access to the THAAD base, which they did not have while the review was being conducted. 

2022 THAAD protesters after new South Korea president elected

Protesters attend a rally against the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in front of the new presidential office on June 23, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. A report says THAAD is cleared for full deployment. (Liu Xu/China News Service via Getty Images)

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Former left-leaning South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who took office just weeks after the THAAD battery was installed, said his conservative predecessor did not seek enough input from locals in clearing the review. Yet, about a year ago, conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol replaced Moon, and has since then tightened collaboration with the United States. 

South Korea and China have traded public wars of words in the past several months over THAAD. 

2017 THAAD protest in South Korea

Protestors hold placards reading “No War, No THAAD,” during a rally near the National Assembly in Seoul on November 8, 2017, as then-President Trump is due to address the South Korea’s national assembly. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

Last summer, China’s Foreign Ministry claimed South Korea agreed to terms set under the Moon administration following a meeting between diplomas. Seoul denied this, with Yoon’s office pronouncing the prospect of a THAAD deployment as “a matter of security sovereignty that can never be subject to negotiation.” 

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Just days ago, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken traveled to Beijing, meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials. The State Department said both sides discussed a range of global and regional security issues, including the “DPRK’s provocative actions.” 

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