Saenuri starts drumbeat in favor of Thaad shield

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Saenuri starts drumbeat in favor of Thaad shield

Leaders of the conservative ruling party are increasingly promoting the deployment of an advanced but controversial U.S. missile defense system to Korea.

“Support has come from some party members for the deployment of the Thaad, a system to defend the country from North Korea’s nuclear missile attack,” said Rep. Yoo Seong-min, floor leader of the Saenuri Party, during the ruling party’s leadership meeting Monday.

Thaad, an acronym for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, is a U.S. missile defense program designed to shoot down missiles closer to their point of origin than South Korea is currently capable of. The deployment of a Thaad battery to Korea has been controversial because it comes with a radar system that can cover more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles). Both China and Russia say it is against their security interests and may be used as a method of surveillance against them.

Seoul and Washington have recently denied that they are even discussing any possible deployment.

“Personally, I have argued for introducing anti-missile systems for a long time, and I also raised the issue in the fall during a government hearing,” Yoo continued. “Now as a floor leader, I think I have the duty to collect the party’s opinions on the matter.”

Yoo said it is an important national security issue and a defense budget issue as well. “Until now, the opposition party has seemed to speak for China and North Korea,” Yoo said. “The Saenuri Party will deal with this matter solely from the national security point of view.”

Yoo said he will collect the party’s opinions at a policy meeting of the lawmakers at the end of this month.

Yoo’s remarks were the latest in a series of arguments made by senior Saenuri members to promote Thaad deployment in Korea. Reps. Won Yoo-chul, senior policy maker of the Saenuri Party, and Na Kyung-won, chairwoman of the foreign and unification affairs committee of the National Assembly, expressed their support on Sunday.

“North Korea has nuclear weapons and we cannot sit with folded arms and do nothing,” said Won during his meeting with reporters. “We need to introduce the Thaad.”

Won headed the National Defense Committee of the legislature during his last term. He is on the foreign and unification affairs committee.

“We have to persuade China at all costs,” Won said. “If China still protests, we have to tell them to force the North to abandon its nuclear programs.”

“They have guns and it is wrong for us to fight with swords,” he added.

Rep. Na, newly elected foreign and unification committee chairwoman, said there is a major need for the missile defense system.

“We are taking a very ambiguous stance between the United States and China over the Thaad issue, but it is not something on which we should be pushed around,” Na said in an appearance on an MBC current affairs program on Sunday.

After U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert was attacked and injured last week, concerns grow about the incident’s impact on the Korea-U.S. alliance. As concerns were expressed that conservative leaders are politicizing the incident to push forward the Thaad system, Yoo said Monday the missile defense issue is too grave an issue to be linked to the assault on the ambassador.

The Ministry of National Defense said Monday that the government currently has no plan to purchase the Thaad system.

“To deter the North’s ballistic missile attacks, the military is currently building a defense system focused on a terminal-phase, low-altitude anti-missile system,” Kim Min-seok, spokesman of the ministry, said. “In the future, the military will develop L-SAM [long-range ground-to-air missile] and M-SAM [mid-range ground-to-air missile] to complete its own ballistic missile defense network.” Asked about the U.S. deployment of a Thaad battery here, Kim reiterated the earlier position that Washington had not made such a decision. “They made no request to the Defense Ministry,” he said.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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