US begins moving THAAD anti-missile defence system to South Korea site

Neil Connor — The Telegraph.co.uk April 25, 2017

Protest meet a U.S. military vehicle which is a part of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system as it arrives in Seongju, South Korea, April 26, 2017. Click to enlarge

Protests meet a U.S. military vehicle which is a part of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system as it arrives in Seongju, South Korea, April 26, 2017. Click to enlarge

The United States began installing a contentious missile system in South Korea on Wednesday, as tensions continue to mount over Pyongyang’s growing nuclear ambitions.

The partial deployment of the THAAD anti-missile defence system has sparked protests from local residents and condemnation from the frontrunner in South Korea’s upcoming presidential election.

Defence officials in Seoul confirmed that some elements of the system were installed on Wednesday and that it will be operational by the end of the year, several reports said.

The move was “in response to North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threat” a statement said, amid concerns that Pyongyang was planning a nuclear test, its sixth since 2006.

THAAD is a major concern for China, which believes its powerful radar will be able to monitor its missile capabilities and undermine its nuclear deterrent. Russia has similar worries.

The US and South Korea agreed last year to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, and a golf course in the south of the country was chosen as the site for the missiles.

Television footage showed military trailers carrying large units including what appeared to be launch canisters being driven into the planned THAAD battery site, about 250 km (155 miles) south of Seoul.

Images showed local protesters hurling water bottles at the vehicles and police trying to block them.

The deployment has been a key issue in South Korea’s election.

A spokesman for frontrunner Moon Jae-in, said the decision “ignored public opinion and due process” and demanded the deployment be suspended until the next administration was in place and had made its policy decision

North Korea on Tuesday held huge artillery drills to mark the 85th anniversary of the founding of its military after weeks of sabre-rattling between Pyongyang and Washington.

A US aircraft carrier strike group has been conducting drills with Japanese warships in the west Pacific Ocean, US naval officials said.

Meanwhile, US and South Korean forces staged military manoeuvres north of Seoul.

Escalating tensions on the peninsula will be under discussion at the White House later on Wednesday at a briefing from senior administration officials for the entire senate.

All 100 senators will be briefed on the North Korean situation by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It is unusual for the entire Senate to go to the White House, and for all four of those officials to be involved.

US President Donald Trump has been urging China to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

Some observers believe Washington aims to exert more pressure on China by heightening concerns that a conflict could break out.

Opposition to THAAD in Beijing has seen Chinese tour groups to South Korea being cancelled, while some South Korean companies have highlighted restrictions on their business in China.

Chinese state media has previously called for China to boost its “nuclear prowess” in response to the weapons system.

Bonnie Glaser, senior advisor for Asia at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said China has no alternative but to accept the missile’s deployment.

“Regardless who wins the South Korean elections, they are likely to prefer to have the THAAD deployment finished,” the China expert said.

“China will have to accept this outcome and decide whether it wants to improve relations with the new president.

“It is not in Beijing’s interests to allow the China-South Korea relationship to deteriorate further.”

Nick Bisley, professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, Melbourne, said China faces considerable challenges in halting the build-up of US military hardware in the region.

“China’s challenge is to reconcile its desire to retain the DPRK as a buffer state, and one whose actions unsettle the US and its allies, without providing further opportunities for US to deploy a much more dense network of THAAD systems,” he said.

Professor Bisley said the current THAAD deployment would not alter “the strategic balance” in the region, “but a major network would be a problem.”

“If North Korea behaved itself a little better then the US would find it hard to establish such a network,” he said.

China's 2nd aircraft carrier in Dalian, Liaoning province. Click to enlarge

China’s 2nd aircraft carrier in Dalian, Liaoning province. Click to enlarge

“If Pyongyang continues down its current path, it will be a little easier.”

Meanwhile, China has launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier, as Beijing seeks to modernise its armed forces and project power onto the high seas.

The launch of the vessel comes after China’s first carrier, the Soviet-built Liaoning, was put into commission in 2012.

China’s military is confronted with a growing threat of hostilities over North Korea, and also faces challenges in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.

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