National divide deepens over THAAD [2016/07/27 10:30]

The rift between pro- and anti-THAAD camps continued to deepen over the weekend with further political wrangling and public protests despite the government`s efforts to ease diplomatic and safety concerns.

The government has been striving to pare down rumors about the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system`s potential health hazards since last week`s announcement that it will be stationed in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province.

The Defense Ministry arranged a media tour on Thursday to a military base that houses the already-operational Patriot PAC-2 and Green Pine radars, which it said exude stronger electromagnetic waves than those emitted by THAAD`s AN/TPY-2 X-band radar. There have been rampant fears that the THAAD signals would pose a threat to human health and agriculture.

Following the prime minister and the defense minister`s visit to enraged residents of the southeastern county on Friday, the ministry is scheduled to take part of its press corps this week to Guam where a THAAD battery is located.

It also plans to conduct a three-stage -- preconstruction, in process and post-deployment -- environmental impact assessment in the area, along with the U.S. Forces Korea. Seoul officials called the measure “unprecedented” for any military facility, saying it reflects the government`s resolve to take the issue seriously and ensure safety. But the controversy showed no signs of letting up.

On Saturday, some 300 members of civic groups including the Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea staged a joint demonstration in downtown Seoul against the stationing plan, while three Seongju citizens are carrying out a one-man protest in turn.

The events came one day after a delegation led by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was met with a near-riot during its trip to the county. Furious residents blocked his vehicle for several hours and hurled water bottles and eggs at him, blasting the government for its failure to consult them in advance and urging the decision to be called off.

“A THAAD deployment on the peninsula would trigger an arms race in Northeast Asia and thus bring a greater threat to our security,” said Oh Mi-jung, the secretary-general of SPARK, citing the opposition from China and Russia.

In contrast, members from conservative groups such as the Young`s Liberty Union launched a pro-THAAD campaign in both the capital and Seongju.

They chanted their support, accused some opposition political parties of making “public-instigating” remarks and demanded the county residents to accept the decision for national security. The issue also fueled an acute split in political circles, especially within the opposition camps.

While the ruling Saenuri Party supports the decision, the minor opposition People`s Party and Justice Party are against it. But the main opposition Minjoo Party has remained cautious, criticizing the administration`s mishaps in the run-up to the announcement, yet opening the door for support once THAAD`s utility is verified and sufficient efforts are provided to convince Beijing and Moscow.

The debate is expected to heat up further with the National Assembly slated to open a hearing on the issue on Tuesday.

“Aside from the ‘not-in-my-backyard` sentiment in the region and politicians riding on it for their domestic interests, real concerns may be with regard to faltering national unity, which could cause political and social waste and only benefit North Korea,” a Seoul official said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

“Before we suffer more from a war of attrition, I hope that the government will manage to persuade the Seongju citizens and forestall any diplomatic retaliation, hopefully at the top levels.”
출처: 헤럴드미디어 영자신문 코리아헤럴드 (www.koreaherald.com)