South Korean lawmakers of the biggest Minjoo Party on Tuesday raised voice against the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in their territory, calling for a resolution through dialogue and negotiations.
A discussion session was hosted by the People's Solidarity for Democracy and Peace, an association composed of 22 Minjoo Party lawmakers, to find alternative to the planned THAAD installation, to which Seoul and Washington agreed in July last year.
On March 6, two mobile launchers and other first elements of THAAD were delivered to an unknown U.S. military base in South Korea. One THAAD battery is comprised of six mobile launchers, 48 interceptors, an AN/TPY-2 radar, and the fire and control unit.
“Just one month is left before a presidential election. It was very deplorable for acting president and defense chief to press ahead with the THAAD deployment, an issue which is extremely crucial to people,” said Rep. Sul Hoon of the Minjoo Party who leads the association.
The lawmaker noted that the THAAD deployment indicates South Korea becoming part of the U.S. missile defense (MD) networking in the region, demanding such a significant issue influencing the country's security be ratified in the parliament.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has served as an interim president since a bill to impeach former President Park Geun-hye was passed in the National Assembly in December.
Park was removed from office on March 10 in the historic ruling of the constitutional court, but the acting leader pushed for the THAAD deployment by allowing the first elements of the U.S. missile shield to be delivered to the country.
During the session, local experts said the THAAD installation would worsen South Korea's relations with China and Russia. It would lead to difficulties for South Korea to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and look for cooperation from the two countries in the eventual reunification with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
They said the deployment decision was hurriedly made without any parliamentary and public discussions and also without any close consultations with neighboring countries, increasing the diplomatic burden for next president.
An early presidential election is scheduled for May 9. Moon Jae-in of the Minjoo Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the center-right People's Party are having a close race in recent presidential polls.
Regional countries, including China and Russia, have strongly opposed the THAAD deployment in South Korea as it breaks regional strategic balance and damages security interests of the two countries.
To resolve the THAAD issue, the main panelist proposed to the next South Korean government taking the lead in talking the DPRK into freezing its nuclear and missile developments first. Then, Seoul can discuss a gradual lifting of sanctions on Pyongyang with China and the United States to achieve the ultimate goal of the denuclearization on the peninsula.
Cheong Seong-chang, director of unification strategy studies program at the private Sejong Institute, depicted the approach as the re-internalization of the Korean Peninsula issues in which two Koreas take the initiative to resolve the peninsula's nuclear issue.
Cheong recommended the next South Korean president to hold summit talks with top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un to agree on the immediate stop of Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile tests in exchange for the resumption of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the DPRK's border town as well as the restart of tours to the DPRK's Mount Kumgang resort.
If the agreement is reached, China and the United States can agree on the partial lifting of sanctions on the DPRK. In that case, there would be no need to deploy THAAD in South Korean soil.
Cheong said the DPRK's nuclear capability had advanced significantly in comparison to the one in 2006 when the country carried out its first nuclear test, and that the advanced capability would have made the U.S. think of it as a real threat to its security.
As a few more nuclear and missiles tests can lead the DPRK to own nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland, it would be urgent to stop any further advancement in the DPRK's nuclear and missile capabilities, the senior researcher added.