Ministry 'dropped' mention of Thaad launchers

Containers believed to have equipment related with the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system (THAAD) at a golf course in Seongju on May 30, 2017.
Containers believed to have equipment related with the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system (THAAD) at a golf course in Seongju on May 30, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL • South Korea's Defence Ministry "intentionally dropped" mentioning that four more launchers had been deployed for a controversial US anti-missile system, in a report to President Moon Jae In's top aides, his office said yesterday.

The ministry intentionally omitted details about the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system battery in a report last week, when the new government was preparing for Mr Moon's summit with United States President Donald Trump this month, said presidential Blue House spokesman Yoon Young Chan.

The President has ordered a probe at the Defence Ministry, saying it was "very shocking" that the launchers had been brought in without being reported to the new government or to the public.

Mr Moon took office on May 10 without a transition period because a snap presidential election was held just two months after his predecessor, Park Geun Hye, was ousted in a corruption scandal. Mr Moon inherited his Defence Minister along with the rest of his Cabinet from the previous administration.

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The Thaad system was initially deployed in March in the south- eastern region of Seongju with just two of its maximum load of six launchers to counter a growing North Korean missile threat.

An earlier version of the Defence Ministry report specified the total number of launchers being prepared for deployment and the name of the US military base where the four were being kept, but the reference was removed in the final version delivered to the Blue House.

Asked about South Korea's Defence Ministry dropping mention of the four additional launchers, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying expressed "serious concern", and reiterated a call for Thaad to be withdrawn.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said it had been "very transparent" with South Korea's government about the Thaad deployment.

During his successful presidential campaign, Mr Moon called for a parliamentary review of the Thaad system, the deployment of which has infuriated China, North Korea's lone major ally. Mr Moon had also called for more engagement and dialogue with Pyongyang.

Asked about South Korea's Defence Ministry dropping mention of the four additional launchers, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying expressed "serious concern", and reiterated a call for Thaad to be withdrawn.

China had been incensed over the deployment, saying it would do little to deter the North's missile threat, while allowing the US military to use its radar to look deep into its territory and at its own missile systems. China is also troubled by the possibility that the Thaad system could open the door to a wider deployment, possibly in Japan and elsewhere, analysts say.

North Korea has conducted three ballistic missile tests since Mr Moon took office, maintaining its accelerated pace of missile and nuclear-related activities since the beginning of last year, in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi yesterday that he would like to work with China to try to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2017, with the headline 'Ministry 'dropped' mention of Thaad launchers'. Print Edition | Subscribe