A Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course in South Korea was picked Friday as the new site for a US missile system aimed at defending the country from any North Korean attack.
The decision comes after more than two months of protests over the original plan to locate Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, known as Thaad, in the mountainous county of Seongju more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Seoul. The missile defence system will now be located nearby at the Lotte Group’s Skyhill Country Club, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
The move, just weeks after Kim Jong Un’s regime conducted its fifth nuclear test, may appease some villagers who fiercely opposed putting Thaad in Seongju due to concerns over how its powerful radars would impact their health. Even so, President Park Geun-hye’s administration still faces other obstacles to moving ahead with the defence system.
Park was scheduled to host a luncheon at the presidential Blue House on Friday with the commander and generals of the United States Forces Korea, her office said by text message. She was planning to emphasise the importance of a firm joint defence posture amid escalating provocations from North Korea, according to the message.
China and Russia remain opposed to Thaad as they believe it will destabilise the region, with Beijing considering economic retaliation if South Korea deploys the missile shield. The issue has prompted China to give the cold shoulder to Park, only months after the two nations hailed ties as the best in history.
“China has many times made clear its opposition to the US deploying its THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea,” Chinese defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters in Beijing on Thursday. “We will pay close attention to this development, and consider taking necessary measures to safeguard our national strategic security and maintain the regional strategic balance.”
“It is worthwhile emphasising that we Chinese mean what we say,” Yang added.
The new site could also prompt opposition from other groups of people, according to local media reports. The golf course owned by retail giant Lotte is only 500 metres (0.3 miles) from a Won Buddhism shrine and about 25 kilometres to Gimcheon City, home to about 140,000 residents. This compares with the 46,000 population of Seongju county.
Gimcheon’s Mayor Park Bo-saeng started Tuesday a hunger strike in protest at the defence ministry’s expected move. He agrees on the need for the Thaad on the peninsula, and doesn’t mind having it in his city, but doesn’t want it near the golf course because it’s only seven kilometres from a new town, according to his office.
While Park doesn’t see the need to seek approval from lawmakers for the move, Chung Sye-kyun, the speaker of the National Assembly, told reporters in Seoul on Wednesday that the ratification process will be required as the defence ministry needs to tap the budget to buy the land from Lotte. The Minjoo, the largest opposition party, also agrees on the need for Thaad deployment, but believes there should be stronger diplomatic efforts to resolve disputes with neighbouring countries.
North Korea has threatened dire consequences, using language it typically employs to oppose military moves it views as aggressive. Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary that South Korea would be “exposed to nuclear strikes” if it deploys Thaad.