End internal divisionAfter Seoul and Washington’s joint announcement earlier this week of the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in a U.S. military base in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, wild rumors are sweeping the country. Such ludicrous words as “Thaad melons” — the county is famous for quality Korean melons — are fast spreading along with groundless accusations.
The Park Geun-hye government is accountable for much of the fuss as it did not seek public consensus before and after the decision. Despite urgent security needs, the government has maintained ambiguous attitudes, cancelled the announcement, and then flip-flopped on the deployment site. Regardless of the apparent ramifications of the deployment, the government has not hold a hearing for local residents to explain why it chose the location. A government skipping the crucial process of persuading local people deserves strong criticism and resistance from them.
Politicians helped fuel public resistance against Thaad, fanning regional sentiment. Rather than taking the lead in convincing local residents about no health risks from the deployment, 21 lawmakers representing Daegu and North Gyeongsang — home turf of conservative forces in Korea — demanded the government tell the truth about “suspicious electromagnetic waves” despite its conclusion that they don’t pose any health problems. The attack is led by Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan, former deputy prime minister for the economy and a core member of the pro-Park faction in the ruling Saenuri Pary. Lee Soo-hyuck, former chief negotiator in the six-party talks and current lawmaker of the major opposition Minjoo Party, said the deployment is aimed at allowing the U.S. to detect China’s missile movement.
Former Chairman of the party Moon Jae-in even called for a review of the deployment after returning from a trip overseas.
Moon’s attack of the government only deepens national division. Following a call for referendum by Ahn Cheol-soo, former co-chair of the minor opposition People’s Party, even after the government’s announcement, Chung Dong-young, a senior politician of the party, urged a withdrawal of the Thaad system — if the opposition takes power in the next presidential election — to protect our national interest. His rhetoric is not different from the pro-Park legislators who resort populism for reelection.
The government must address internal schisms as soon as possible. Mayor of Seongju has come up with the idea of checking the health risks through a tour of the U.S. Thaad radar in Guam Base. It could be an effective way to clear lingering doubts about the health threats. Now, reason must prevail over emotion in times of crisis.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 15, Page 34