Posted : 2016-01-13 16:44
Updated : 2016-01-13 22:31

Park hints at THAAD deployment

President Park Geun-hye speaks to the nation from Cheong Wa Dae, Wednesday, about how to respond to North Korea's fourth nuclear test. She vowed to help the U.N. Security Council slap "the most powerful sanctions" on Pyongyang.
/ Korea Times photo by Hong In-ki

President vows "most powerful" sanctions against North

By Kang Seung-woo

President Park Geun-hye said Wednesday that the government will review plans by the U.S. Forces Korea to deploy an advanced missile defense system here, depending on how North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles threaten security and national interests.

Her remarks came one week after the North allegedly conducted a hydrogen bomb test, which ignited calls for Seoul and Washington to deploy the terminal high-altitude area defense (THAAD) system on Korean soil.

"Taking the North's nuclear and missile threats into consideration, I will review the issue of deploying THAAD here based on security and national interests. That is the bottom line," Park said in a nationally televised address from Cheong Wa Dae.

It is no secret that the U.S. government wants to deploy THAAD here, with the Kim Jong-un regime modernizing its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. In 2014, the U.S. conducted a site inspection for the missile interceptor.

However, the Park administration has been reluctant to openly approve of the THAAD deployment because China strongly opposes its presence, claiming that it could be a threat to its security. China is the South's biggest trading partner.

The Chinese media kept a close watch on Park's THAAD comments.

The daily Huanqiu Shibao, a foreign affairs tabloid controlled by the Chinese Communist Party's flagship paper the People's Daily, said in its editorial that a deployment of U.S. military weapons on the Korean Peninsula following the latest North Korean nuclear test was aimed at containing China as well as the North.

It added that should the U.S. deploy THAAD in the South, it will threaten China.

The China Internet Information Center, a web portal authorized by the Chinese government, also said that the South Korean government has rejected previous U.S. calls for THAAD deployment due to China's opposition; but noted the situation was changing after the nuclear test.

Park's THAAD comments are also seen as a measure to get China to swiftly rein in the North's nuclear ambitions, with Beijing government keeping mum on possible sanctions over the fourth nuclear test, as such action could lead to the North's collapse and instability on its border.

Amid intensifying inter-Korean tensions, the Seoul government has limited the entry of its people to the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, a joint project in the North, twice, raising speculation that the South may close the joint factory park, but Park said that its future depends on the North's actions.

"At this point, I am not considering taking such an extreme measure. However, whether or not to shut it down is fully up to the North," she said.

A total of 124 South Korean firms are running factories with about 54,000 North Koreans working at the complex in the North Korean border city, which opened in 2004 as a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation and has served as a valued source of hard currency for the impoverished North.

Also, the President called on China to play a necessary role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in an international move to impose fresh sanctions on the North, saying that the best partners are those who can hold hands in difficult times.

"China has repeatedly stated that it will not tolerate the North's nuclear program, and is well aware that if such a strong statement is not followed by necessary measures, the North would carry out further nuclear tests, preventing peace and stability on the Korea Peninsula," Park said.

"We have closely discussed the North Korean nuclear issue, so I believe that the Chinese government will not allow the situation on the Korean Peninsula to deteriorate further."

Seoul-Beijing ties are at their best-ever, evidenced by six summits between Park and Chinese President Xi Jinping, thanks to Park's efforts to improve bilateral relations given that China is the only country that can exert influence on the North.

However, the two sides seem to remain apart over countermeasures against the North Korean nuclear test.

Following the claimed hydrogen bomb test, the U.N. is working to draft a new resolution for sanctions against the North, and Park vowed to make all diplomatic efforts to ensure that the reclusive state will be slapped with the most powerful sanctions yet.

"The government has coordinated with its allies, including the United States, on a draft resolution," she said.

The North's latest nuclear test is rekindling debate on whether the South should possess its own nuclear arsenal, but Park opposed the idea, adding that it would break the nation's commitment to the international community.

"I don't think we need nuclear weapons in South Korea," Park said.

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