South Korea, US to discuss missile defence

South Korean troops in a training exercise against a possible attack from North Korea yesterday, as tensions rise following Pyongyang's rocket launch.
South Korean troops in a training exercise against a possible attack from North Korea yesterday, as tensions rise following Pyongyang's rocket launch.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Beijing expresses concern, saying missile system could be used to target China

SEOUL • South Korea could begin detailed discussions with the US as early as next week on bringing in an advanced American missile defence system opposed by China.

The discussions would focus on placing one Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) unit with the US military in South Korea after North Korea's rocket launch on Sunday, a Seoul defence official said, on condition of anonymity.

Seoul and Washington have said Pyongyang's tests violated United Nations Security Council resolutions. The council is discussing a new resolution.

On the agenda of the upcoming Seoul-Washington talks are issues such as location, cost-sharing, environmental protection and a timeline for installation.

US military officials have said the THAAD system was needed in South Korea, but the Seoul government had been reluctant to openly discuss its deployment as it tried to balance its alliance with the United States and ties with China, its biggest trade partner.

THAAD, built by Lockheed Martin, is designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or just outside the atmosphere during their final phase of flight. The interceptor missiles carry no warheads, instead relying on kinetic energy to destroy their targets.

Seoul and Washington have said that if THAAD was deployed to South Korea, it would be focused only on the North.

However, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi yesterday told Reuters he was concerned by the possible deployment of THAAD, saying it could also be used to target China.

In an interview in Munich, Mr Wang urged the US to rethink its strategy. "It doesn't require experts. Ordinary people know that the deployment of the THAAD system is not just to defend South Korea, but a wider agenda and may even serve the possibility of targeting China."

There is already a THAAD battery stationed in Guam, a US territory in the Pacific, and Japan is also considering taking on the system.

Mr Wang also said China will back a UN Security Council resolution to make North Korea "pay the necessary price" for the recent rocket launch, adding that the goal was to get Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.

Mr Wang met US Secretary of State John Kerry in Munich, and Mr Kerry urged China "to use its influence in Pyongyang to help the international community increase pressure" on it, State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

As punishment for the North's rocket launch and its fourth nuclear test on Jan 6, Seoul on Wednesday halted operations at the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex, which lies about 10km inside North Korea.

The North called the move "a declaration of war" on Thursday, and expelled the South's workers. The 280 South Koreans who had remained in Kaesong rushed to leave the industrial park on Thursday evening.

A few minutes before midnight, the South shut off the electricity supply that powered the Kaesong factory zone. It also cut the water supply.

Seoul has accused Pyongyang of "illegal" acts as the latter froze assets of South Korean companies in Kaesong.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2016, with the headline 'S. Korea, US to discuss missile defence'. Print Edition | Subscribe