Thousands of demonstrators formed a human chain around the American embassy in the South Korean capital, Seoul, to register their disapproval of the US-built THAAD missile defense system in their country.
According to organizers, 3,000 people attended a march through the center of Seoul, holding signs that read ‘Koreans hate THAAD’ and ‘Yes to peace talks,’ as well as banners directed at US President Donald Trump.
“The deployment of THAAD, which is unnecessary for the defense of the Korean Peninsula, should be pulled back,” said one of the speakers at the rally, quoted by local news outlet Yonhap. “The South Korea-US summit to come next week should be a venue where the review of the THAAD deployment should be assured.”
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and Trump are due to meet for the first time in Washington next week, with THAAD expected to dominate the agenda.
Moon, a center-left politician, who was sworn in last month after a corruption scandal brought down the previous right-wing administration, has been a fierce critic of the way in which the sophisticated defense system has been deployed and has ordered a full investigation.
On Thursday, Moon told Reuters that according to the “original agreement,” only one missile battery, consisting of six missile launchers, was due to be deployed in 2017, with five others due to be imported and brought online thereafter.
Instead, two were brought online a week before last month’s election, and four were “covertly” brought into the country as the previous government realized that they were facing defeat, with the public not told until they were already in the country.
“For some reason that I do not know, this entire THAAD process was accelerated,” said Moon.
Washington said that all steps were agreed with the government and comply with NATO guidelines.
“The US trusts the South Korean official stance that the THAAD deployment was an Alliance decision. We have worked closely and have been fully transparent with the South Korean government throughout this process,” United States Forces Korea wrote to the Korea Herald on Friday, when asked to respond to Moon’s comments.
Trump has been angered by Moon’s insinuations of impropriety and the purported ingratitude of South Koreans, who would be receiving a state-of-the-art defense system against North Korea’s recently bolstered missile-launching capacities, and has charged that Seoul owes Washington $1 billion in THAAD expenses.
Moon’s office has been attempting to limit the stand-off between allies following the Reuters interview, saying his government is not fundamentally opposed to THAAD, but is merely trying to follow procedures.
“The president’s remark came as a part of his effort to explain that the South Korean government is not trying to postpone the deployment of THAAD. It was aimed to highlight the government’s effort to follow the legitimate process for the deployment,” it said in a statement.
The THAAD issue has become a nexus of several agendas and developments, meaning that backing down now will likely result in a loss of credibility for at least some of the involved actors.
North Korea’s frequent missile tests this year have demanded a response, but Moon has advocated charting a more diplomatic course with Pyongyang, and also wants a clean break with the messy practices of the previous government.
Trump has called for the total isolation of North Korea and has also threatened force. Trump further believes that NATO allies are not making sufficient contributions.
Pyongyang’s patron, China, has also condemned THAAD while engaging in a costly unofficial trade war with South Korea over its decision to install the missile defense system.