Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis reaffirmed the controversial deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea despite strong opposition at home and abroad.
The Pentagon chief under Trump administration held talks in Seoul Friday with his South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Han Min-koo, reaffirming the agreement that was abruptly announced in July last year to install one THAAD battery in southeast South Korea by the end of this year.
The contentious decision drew sharp criticism and strong objection from China and Russia as its X-band radar can peer deep into territories of the two countries, breaking strategic balance and bolstering arms race in the region.
It has also caused opposition from local residents as the radar emits super microwaves detrimental to environment and human body. Civic group activists and opposition lawmakers have objected to it for lack of public consensus.
While the defense ministers' talks were going on, residents and advocate group members gathered in front of the South Korean Defense Ministry's headquarters to protest against the THAAD deployment.
The opponents said no parliamentary and public consent were given to the U.S. missile shield deployment, calling for the reversal of the decision on THAAD that has no defense effectiveness and never helps bring peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Mattis said the THAAD in South Korea would be defensive in nature to protect U.S. troops stationed here and its ally South Korea from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s nuclear and missile threats, but nobody would naively believe such claim.
The THAAD is designed to shoot down incoming missiles at an altitude of 40-150 km, but most of DPRK missiles fly at an altitude of less than 40 km.
THAAD placed in southeast South Korea is incapable of intercepting missiles targeting Seoul and its surrounding metropolitan areas, which have around half of the country's total 50 million populations.
Major presidential contenders in the South Korean opposition bloc demanded the THAAD deployment decision be cancelled or delayed to the next government as President Park Geun-hye was impeached in December.
During the talks, Mattis reassured South Korea of the U.S. commitment to the defense of its Northeast Asian ally, saying any attack on his country and U.S. allies will be beaten off effectively and overwhelmingly.
He noted that the U.S.-South Korea alliance is a "linchpin" to support peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, saying the U.S. will make efforts to let the region become peaceful, safe and liberal through cooperation with its allies and partners.
The Pentagon chief reiterated that his country places priority on the U.S.-South Korea alliance as he mentioned at a Thursday meeting with South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn who is serving as acting president.
In response, the South Korean defense minister said his talks with Mattis will act as an opportunity to reaffirm the firm alliance and further develop the comprehensive strategic alliance.
The retired four-star Marine general arrived here Thursday on his first overseas trip since he took office about two weeks earlier. He will then visit Japan for two days.