Mature citizens neededPrime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn came under attack from a mob of people from Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, who were protesting the government’s unilateral decision to place a controversial U.S.-led missile defense system in their area.
They angrily threw water bottles and eggs at Hwang, who was visiting with Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Vice Minister of the Interior Kim Sung-lyul. The hearing turned into mayhem and was cut short after half an hour. Residents clashed with police and blocked the van carrying the government officials for nearly seven hours.
Hwang and the ministers repeatedly apologized for failing to seek local residents’ understanding and consent before choosing Seongsan-ri artillery base as the site for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery. Thaad contains a highly powerful radar, and the site is near the farming town of Seongju. Its population of 45,000 people fear for their health and the safety of farmers’ produce because of exposure to electromagnetic waves.
The residents turned violent because many feared the installation would affect farmers’ ability to produce a specific kind of melon, which make up 70 percent of their income. The rage and opposition is understandable. The government had been highly secretive during the two-year process of bringing in the Thaad system and neglected to try to persuade the people of its necessity and the ramifications for not using it. Instead, the government primarily focused on negotiating with U.S. defense authorities, ignoring the opinions of its own population.
These residents have good reason to be feeling resentful and angry by the decision. But they should nevertheless hear out the government about safety guarantees and compensation instead of letting their emotions get in the way. The government has attempted to persuade them once, but it must return again and again until the people are convinced by its explanation. The government should consider stationing officials at the county office specifically to hear out residents’ complaints about Thaad.
The county’s leader has pledged to hinder any outsiders from stirring up people, and plans to visit Guam to study the Thaad system stationed there. We need the powerful arsenal as a deterrent against the increasing missile and nuclear threat from North Korea. The government must demonstrate reliable leadership on the diplomatic and security front to draw public support for its policies.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 16, Page 26