Korea claims it isn’t joining U.S. missile defense

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Korea claims it isn’t joining U.S. missile defense

The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in Korea does not necessarily mean Seoul will take part in the larger U.S. missile defense system, the Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo said on Wednesday.

“Thaad will be a system for defensive purposes on the Korean Peninsula, which will not be related to sharing information with the U.S. region’s MD (missile defense) system,” said Han in a heated policy debate between ruling and opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly over the deployment of the Thaad battery in Korea.

Han underscored that, instead, Seoul will continue to work on its locally-developed Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) shield, which focuses on terminal-phase, low-altitude missile defense.

“Since the Kim Dae-jung administration, our nation has maintained the policy of not participating in the [U.S.] missile defense system,” said Han in response to an opposition lawmaker’s question on whether the Thaad deployment indicates Seoul plans to join the American missile defense system, a move which could trigger further backlash from Beijing. “Following this policy, in order to shield against North Korea’s missiles our government will not participate in the [U.S.] MD but has maintained the goal of building a Korean-type KAMD.”

Government officials including Han, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se were grilled by lawmakers, who remained split on the Thaad issue, during the two-day parliamentary session on Thaad policy that began Tuesday.

Along with upgrading its Patriot Advanced Capability interceptors, Han said Korea will continue to develop its medium- and long-range surface-to-air missiles. Seoul and Washington earlier this month decided to deploy the U.S.-led Thaad system to Seongju County in North Gyeongsang in an announcement that was met with strong opposition domestically and by China, Russia and North Korea.

The government has since been taking steps to assuage public unrest over the decision, which includes concerns over the health and environmental risks posed by the electromagnetic waves emitted by the Thaad’s powerful AN/TPY-2 radar, and possible diplomatic repercussions from countries concerned that this radar could compromise their security interests, as this could impact the economy and trade.

Prime Minister Hwang visited Seongju County in person to apologize for the situation and was greeted by angry protesters who pelted him with eggs and threw water bottles at him.

To address safety concerns, Korean military officials allowed members of the media to inspect its Patriot and Green Pine radar units, which are similar to the Thaad radar, for the first time last week. On Monday, U.S. military showed an actual Thaad battery in Guam to Korean reporters to show them the electromagnetic wave emissions are well below domestic levels.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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