South Korea, US select Seongju as site of Thaad anti-missile system site

South Korean activists hold a placard reading "Withdraw the decision on deployment of THAAD," during a rally against the plan on deployment of the US-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) near the US embassy in Seoul on July 11, 2016.
South Korean activists hold a placard reading "Withdraw the decision on deployment of THAAD," during a rally against the plan on deployment of the US-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) near the US embassy in Seoul on July 11, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (Reuters, AFP) - A team of South Korean and US military officials has selected the southeastern county of Seongju to deploy an anti-missile defence system designed to protect against North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats, South Korea said on Wednesday (July 13).

The location, 276km south of Seoul, will allow the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery to provide protection for up to two-thirds of the South Korean population and for nuclear power plants and oil storage facilities, the South’s Defence Ministry said.

The move comes following strong objections from China and Russia accusing Washington of flexing military muscle in the region.

The plan to deploy the powerful system, which fires projectiles to smash into enemy missiles, came last week after the United States placed North Korea's "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong Un on its sanctions blacklist for the first time.

Tensions have soared since Pyongyang carried out its fourth nuclear test in January, followed by a series of missile launches that analysts say show the North is making progress toward being able to strike the US mainland.

Speculations about possible sites had sparked angry protests from local residents in Seongju who cited fears of economic and environmental fallout from the deployment of the Thaad system.

Thousands of residents took to the streets Wednesday, some carrying banners and chanting slogans while others burned a mock Thaad missile, according to reports, while county head Kim Hang Gon and local council members launched a hunger strike to contest the proposed site.

A team of South Korean senior officials and Thaad experts travelled on Wednesday to Seongju, home to 40,000 people, to ease protesters' fears, Yonhap said.

North Korea threatened Monday to take "physical action" against the planned deployment of the powerful anti-missile system.

The move has also angered Beijing and Moscow, which both see it as a US bid to boost military might in the region. China on Friday said the move would "seriously damage" regional security in northeast Asia.

The US and South Korea began talks on deploying the Thaad system to the Korean peninsula in February after the North fired a long-range rocket.

South Korean authorities have scrambled to allay fears over possible trade retaliations from South Korea's largest trading partner China.

Finance Minister Yoo Il Ho told the National Assembly Wednesday he believed China will separate politics from economic affairs and is not likely to hit the South with economic sanctions over missile system deployment.