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JH Ahn was an NK News contributor based in Seoul. He previously worked as an interpreter for United States Forces Korea.
More than 30 key parts of the U.S.-made THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system arrived at the Seongju site in South Korea at 4 am on Wednesday morning, bringing the deployment of the system, which began in March, just a few components away from completion.
The move encountered heavy local resistance. “The cars are coming!” an anti-THAAD activist shouted through his megaphone, as vehicles mounted with parts, such as the controversial X-Band Radar and launchers, started to roll down the road connected to the deployment site at around 04:43 a.m. Seoul time.
Around 500 protestors were there, local reports said, with some observed throwing plastic chairs and plastic bottles at the vehicles.
Described by local media as an “ambush deployment” taking before sunrise without notice, 26 more THAAD parts were later observed entering the site at around 06:50 a.m.
The Wednesday deployment took place six days after the ROK government completed the land transfer process of the deployment site to the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), following the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
During a phone call with NK News, an official from the South Korean Defense Ministry (MND) argued events today were aimed at deploying “part of” the THAAD system and to ensure the system’s operational capability.
However, a Seoul-based expert said it is safe to say that the deployment of the system is “almost complete” and that the most of South Korea – but not Seoul – will soon be under the THAAD umbrella.
“At this point of the deployment process – the THAAD system at Seongju seems to be able to conduct independent operations, and can be put into use almost immediately,” Jung Chang-wook, a military analyst and a former ROK Air Force officer, told NK News.
“Once the parts are deployed at the rally point, it would take only a few hours for the system to be operational… I think within the next 24 hours the system will be online.”
With less than two weeks until South Korea’s presidential election, the deployment lifts a considerable diplomatic burden off the next president – whoever it may be, another expert said.
“South Korean candidates are aware that the deployment is irreversible, and so is Beijing,” Dr. Cha Du-hyeogn, a former intelligence secretary to President Lee Myung-bak, told NK News.
“Xi Jinping’s reputation was damaged when the current Seoul government insisted on deploying the system – despite Beijing’s multiple warnings from the past.” Cha continued. “But a new Seoul government – not responsible for the deployment – will work as a ‘good excuse’ for Beijing to start relations with Seoul on a clean slate.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Park Hun-kyu’s Youtube