South Korean president seeks hearing on US anti-missile system

Moon Jae-in tries to ease North Korean nuclear tensions while addressing Thaad strains

South Korean president Moon Jae-in poses for selfies with visitors at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea on Friday. Photograph: Yonhap via Reuters

South Korean president Moon Jae-in poses for selfies with visitors at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea on Friday. Photograph: Yonhap via Reuters

 

The liberal party of South Korea’s newly installed president Moon Jae-in will seek a parliamentary hearing about a controversial US anti-missile defence system to address “national suspicions” about the battery’s deployment.

Mr Moon has pledged to spearhead international efforts to ease tensions over the North Korean nuclear crisis by encouraging more dialogue and using sanctions rather than force, while also addressing China’s anger over the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system.

The liberal former human rights lawyer and one-time special forces commando was sworn in on Wednesday and promised in his inaugural speech to immediately address security tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Chinese president Xi Jinping spoke to Mr Moon by telephone to congratulate him and while their conversation focused mainly on North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, they also discussed Thaad.

China says Thaad’s deployment will upset the strategic balance of the region, and has imposed restrictions on tourism and sanctioned South Korean firms doing business in China. The number of tourists from China fell 40 per cent in March from a year ago, the Korea Tourism Organisation said.

Mr Moon’s Democratic Party’s special panel on the system said it would have to “address national suspicions regarding the procedural legitimacy of the Thaad deployment, the illegal installation of Thaad equipment and a possible secret deal [with the US] over the cost-sharing,” Yonhap news agency reported.

The system was approved by an interim government after Mr Moon’s predecessor, Park Geun-hye, was impeached and imprisoned in a corruption scandal. He said during the campaign he would review the project, which has seen local opposition and also suggestions there was some kind of secret deal with Washington for the project.

Many who oppose the system say that it will only benefit the US and Japan, not South Korea.

“To prevent further national conflict, the government should now prepare for procedures to secure parliamentary ratification for it,” the panel said.

Parliamentary test

Dealing with Thaad could prove the first parliamentary test for Mr Moon’s administration. The Democratic Party has 120 seats in the 299-member National Assembly, while the main opposition Liberty Korea Party has 94 seats and the other conservative group, the Bareun Party, has 20 seats. Both strongly supported the Thaad’s deployment.

Key components, such as its radar system, have already been delivered to the deployment site, on a former golf course in Seongju, nearly 300km south of Seoul.

Although relations between Seoul and Washington are strong, Mr Moon’s call for dialogue with Pyongyang, and pledge to go there “if conditions are right”, contrasts with the US calls for more pressure on Pyongyang, including more United Nations sanctions and increased international isolation.

The deployment has been further complicated after President Donald Trump said he “had informed Seoul it would be appropriate if they paid” for the US$1 billion (€920 million) weapons system, which Seoul rejects.