In an announcement that is expected to further strain its relations with China, South Korea has pushed back pressure from Beijing and announced the offer of additional land for the deployment of the U.S. anti-ballistic system.
South Korea has granted an additional 400,000 square meters of land to the U.S. to deploy the U.S.-made anti-ballistic, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which China considers a security threat. With this offer, a total of 730,000 square meters of land, including 330,000 given five years ago, have been granted.
THAAD is an anti-ballistic missile defense system designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The system carries no warhead and destroys missiles through impact. However, the system is accused of being a dual use that can also be used to fire attack missiles.
Beijing is particularly wary about its inbuilt advanced radar capabilities, which could be used to track China’s own missile systems. Meanwhile, Seoul maintains the system is a deterrent in the face of threats from North Korea.
Earlier, at a meeting held Friday in Seoul, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol had conveyed to China’s top legislator Li Zhanshu, that he did not want the missile shield to become an obstacle to relations with Beijing.
Relations between China and South Korea deteriorated in 2016, following Seoul’s decision to deploy THAAD, which Beijing objected strongly to. Following the decision, China imposed an unofficial boycott on South Korea for around a year and relations were restored by the end of Oct. 2017 only after Seoul assuaged China’s security concerns through public pronouncement of the “three noes” – no additional THAAD deployment, no participation in the US’s missile defense network and no establishment of a trilateral military alliance with the US and Japan.
However, with a new government of President Yoon Suk-yeol in place, South Korea has shifted to taking a harder line approach, primarily towards North Korea, and is therefore looking to expand military cooperation with the U.S.
North Korea recently passed a law enshrining the right to use preemptive nuclear strikes to protect itself, and the U.S has reiterated its “ironclad” and “unwavering commitment” to protect South Korea. It was reported Tuesday that the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group 5 will be conducting large-scale joint naval exercises in the region.
Following indications of South Korea’s shifting stance on the “three noes,” Beijing had in July urged Seoul to uphold its previous president’s commitment and refrain from installing the anti-ballistic missile systems. However, pushing back China’s efforts, Seoul termed the deployment of the missile shield as “not negotiable”.