By The Japan News
Asia News Netw
The United States and South Korea announced that they have officially decided to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), the most advanced US missile defense system, to be operated by US forces in South Korea.
A ground-based defense system, THAAD is designed to intercept North Korea’s ballistic missiles in outer space or at high altitudes immediately after their reentry into the atmosphere.
Washington and Seoul will hasten the work to select the sites for deployment, with the aim of starting operations by the end of 2017.
In their joint statement, the two countries emphasised that the deployment will be for defence purposes only, saying the system “will be focused solely on North Korea’s increasing threats” and “will enhance the alliance’s defence capabilities”.
It is highly significant that the South Korean administration of President Park Geun-hye has opted for a path toward expanding its alliance with the United States in the medium to long term, correcting its inclination toward Beijing over policy vis-a-vis North Korea.
Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda upheld the deployment decision, saying it “will contribute to peace and stability in the region”. His endorsement is natural. South Korea took part in a Japan-US joint missile-tracking drill off Hawaii for the first time last month. It is essential to promote close defense cooperation among the three nations.
After pushing ahead with its fourth nuclear test in January, North Korea repeatedly test-fired ballistic missiles in defiance of sanction resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council.
North Korea has successfully launched a Musudan medium-range ballistic missile, a type of weapon said to be targeted at US military bases in Guam. The Kim Jong-un administration has bragged that the country demonstrated its missile’s capability of reentering the atmosphere by adjusting the launch angle to raise its altitude.
Musudan and the medium-range ballistic missile Rodong, which has most of Japan within its range, are mobile types. It cannot be overlooked that North Korea has increased its surprise attack capability by repeating the test-firing of missiles.
Washington listed Kim, chairman of the Workers Party of Korea, as subject to financial sanctions for the infringement of human rights. It is feared that Pyongyang will resort to a new provocation in retaliation. Constant vigilance is called for.
It is a matter of concern that China strongly opposes the THAAD deployment decision, saying it “will seriously harm the regional strategic balance”.
Washington and Seoul announced that THAAD will only target North Korea, but Beijing is wary, suspecting the radar will be used to monitor its military forces. Behind this could be China’s irritation over its failed attempt to alienate Seoul from Japan and the United States.
China’s assertion is misdirected. Beijing took an indecisive stance toward imposing harsh sanctions against Pyongyang that could destabilise the North Korean regime. It should not be forgotten that such an attitude allowed North Korea to go ahead with its nuclear and missile development programmes.