Thaad site acquisition has been delayed

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Thaad site acquisition has been delayed

The Ministry of National Defense said Monday it may face a delay in the acquisition of Lotte’s golf course in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, the site where the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system is to be deployed.

A deal to swap the Lotte Skyhill Seongju Country Club with government land in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, was originally scheduled to be completed this month, said Moon Sang-gyun, spokesman of the Defense Ministry, but may be delayed because of Lotte’s “internal situation.”

“We said previously that the land swap would happen within January,” said Moon in a briefing, “but there is a possibility this can be slightly delayed.”

Lotte has yet to convene a board of directors meeting giving the final okay to swap the golf course for the military land, apparently concerned over possible retaliatory measures against the company by China, which objects to the Thaad deployment.

Since last month, Lotte Group has been the target of a series of harsh probes by Chinese authorities including a tax audit in Shanghai, all seen as Beijing’s retaliatory measures for the Seongju golf course arrangement.

“Lotte has to hold a board meeting and approve the final appraisal, but a meeting of the board of directors has not yet been held,” elaborated Moon. “I believe it will be held soon.” But he did not specify an exact timeline.

Appraisal of the plots of land was completed last week.

“Currently, the administrative procedures are underway for the contract [to swap the plots of land], but the schedule is more or less flexible,” he said.

When asked if the Defense Ministry has requested Lotte to hold a board of directors meeting as soon as possible, Moon responded “That is Lotte’s internal affairs, so we are hoping that everything will go as planned as much as possible.”

He likewise said to a question as to whether Defense Minister Han Min-koo plans on meeting with Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin over the matter, “Negotiations are currently underway, so it will not be appropriate to comment on this.”

Seoul and Washington in July announced they will deploy a Thaad battery in South Korea to counter Pyongyang’s missile threats and decided upon Seongju County as the optimum location. But Seongju residents protested the deployment, especially concerned about health and environmental effects of the electromagnetic waves emitted from the battery’s powerful AN/TPY-2 radar.

On Sept. 20, the Defense Ministry finally decided upon the rural golf course as the new location for the Thaad battery and entered negotiations with Lotte International, its operator, in October. In November, the ministry announced it agreed with Lotte International, to exchange the land for the government plot in Namyangju.

But since the announcement, Lotte Group, the nation’s fifth largest conglomerate, has become the target of a Chinese crackdown.

Some 150 of its factories, storage facilities and stores of Lotte affiliates in the country came under scrutiny, including units of Lotte Confectionery, Lotte Chemical, Lotte Department Store and Lotte Mart. The crackdown also included a tax audit of the Lotte Group’s Shanghai headquarters.

Lotte was originally scheduled to hold a board meeting on Jan. 3 but has been putting off the meeting. China has strongly protested the deployment of Thaad in Korea, saying it goes against its national strategic interests. It is especially wary of the X-band radar, which it thinks will be used by the United States to spy on it despite Washington claiming it will limit its range to monitor North Korea.

Lotte Group officially claims “time is needed because there are many things the board of directors has to review.” But a source from within the conglomerate told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday, “When taking into consideration domestic business, we need to swap the plots of land with the Defense Ministry right away, but we cannot turn our back on business with China. Thaad is a dilemma for Lotte.”

After the golf course is acquired by the military, it will be transferred to the U.S. Forces Korea in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, between the two countries.

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

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