Citing the threat posed by North Korean missiles, the U.S. military has sent the first elements of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea. China has opposed the move, which has also drawn mixed reactions in South Korea.
The shipment landed in the night of March 6, with a C-17 cargo aircraft unloading two large mobile launchers on the tarmac at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul. The plan to install a THAAD system on the Korean peninsula was laid out by the U.S. and South Korea last summer.
"China says that its main concern is that the system's radar could be used to spy on China's military, and the missiles could possibly counter China's nuclear deterrent," NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.
The U.S. is calling the system's deployment a defensive measure, saying that it is "aimed solely at" defending against missiles from North Korea. Last month, North Korea test-fired a "medium- or intermediate-range" missile, and on Sunday, it fired four missiles — one of which is believed to have flown about 620 miles before it splashed into the Sea of Japan.
From Seoul, Jason Strother reports for our Newscast unit:
"A small protest against the THAAD system was held outside of the South Korean Ministry of Defense, near an American military base. Civic groups and some opposition parties say the government pressed ahead without consultation. Some are calling for an immediate halt to the deployment.
"Leaders of South Korea's conservative parties welcomed the arrival of the missile shield parts, pointing out that North Korea just tested four ballistic missiles and is threatening to launch more. Once all its pieces arrive, the THAAD system will be based in rural Seongju county, 120 miles south of the capital."
The land for the new THAAD base was acquired in a swap with the South Korean company Lotte Group — and today, more than 20 of its supermarkets in China were forced to close, after surprise safety and health inspections were launched. That's according to The Chosun Ilbo in South Korea.
Today, China's state-run People's Daily warns, "THAAD in South Korea will bring arms race in the region as the U.S. missile defense (MD) strategy can be likened to a fight between spear and shield. More missile shields of one side inevitably bring more nuclear missiles of the opposing side that can break through the missile shield."
More criticism came from state-run Xinhua News, which published a metaphor-rich article stating, "the tit-for-tat confrontation between Pyongyang and Seoul has become a sickening old play staged annually in Northeast Asia, and is crippling the chips of all concerned on the Korean peninsula."