South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s top security aide yesterday left for Washington as the new leader tries to reassure his country’s main ally he will not scrap a deal to host a missile defense system that has angered China.
Moon ordered an investigation this week into why his office had not been informed about the deployment of four more launchers for the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which are being deployed amid a growing threat of missile launches by North Korea.
The liberal leader had pledged during his election campaign that he would review the decision to deploy THAAD and said it was “very shocking” his office had not been told of the latest deployment while he is preparing for a summit with US President Donald Trump in Washington this month.
The decision to deploy the system in South Korea was made by Moon’s conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and thrown out of office in a corruption scandal that engulfed South Korea’s business and political elite.
“My order for a probe on THAAD is purely a domestic measure and I want to be clear that it is not about trying to change the existing decision or sending a message to the United States,” Moon told visiting US Senator Dick Durbin late on Wednesday.
The remarks were Moon’s first clear indication that he does not intend to stop the deployment, which has drawn angry protests from China.
China says the THAAD will do little to deter the missile threat from North Korea, while allowing the US military to use the system’s powerful radar to look deep into its territory, undermining its security.
In Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) yesterday reiterated a call for an end to the THAAD deployment in South Korea.
China has issued “representations” to South Korea expressing serious concern about Moon not having been informed about the deployment of four more launchers, Hua told a daily news briefing.
Moon’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, denied that the controversy over the deployment would have a negative impact on the summit between Moon and Trump.
“We’ve sufficiently explained that this has nothing to do with our alliance,” Chung told reporters before his departure.
Chung said he would meet Trump’s national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, and finalize the agenda for the summit.
The presidential Blue House on Wednesday said the South Korean Ministry of National Defense had intentionally omitted details about the THAAD battery in a report made to Chung last week, when the government was preparing for the summit.
Moon inherited Park’s defense minister, along with the rest of the Cabinet.
The THAAD battery was initially deployed in March with just two of its maximum load of six launchers to counter the North’s missile threat.
North Korea has conducted three ballistic missile tests since Moon took office, maintaining its accelerated pace of missile and nuclear-related activities since the beginning of last year.
The Pentagon said it had been “very transparent” with Seoul about the THAAD deployment.
The onset of summer has sparked a rise in incidents of “mask rage” in South Korea as more hot and bothered commuters either refuse to wear face coverings or leave parts of their faces exposed. In South Korea, Japan and other countries in East Asia, widespread mask wearing has been cited as one possible explanation for the region’s relative success in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. South Korea, one of the first countries outside China to be affected by the virus, flattened the coronavirus curve in April, although it is now struggling with dozens of daily cases, mainly in and around
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