by JH Ahn, NK News
4 March 2016, SEOUL (TSR- NKNews) – A U.S.-South Korean joint working group to discuss deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) has been formed, with its first talks scheduled to take place on Friday afternoon, local media said.
“South Korea’s Defense Ministry and U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) – on behalf of the Pentagon – have signed the agreement to form the U.S.-South Korean joint working group to discuss the USFK’s THAAD deployment,” an unnamed South Korean defense official was quoted as saying by the Chosun Ilbo on Friday.
The unnamed defense official also said that the joint group will discuss an optimal site for the system’s deployment, as well as related safety and environment issues, price and overall schedule.
“The working group will discuss the ‘possibility’ of THAAD deployment,” said the official.
Initial talks on forming the joint group started about two weeks ago, with the South Korean defense minister clarifying on February 18 that South Korea and the U.S. have spoken on how to organize and manage the joint group.
For its part, China has hinted in its state bulletin Huanqui that the country might consider an option to increase its missile defenses to counter THAAD.
But the tension between the U.S. and China was lowered soon after when U.S. State Secretary John Kerry said that the need for THAAD deployment could be made obsolete if the two “can get to denuclearization (of North Korea)”.
China, along with the rest of the UN Security Council, voted in favor of stiff new sanctions against the North on Wednesday. In the aftermath of China’s agreement, one source said that the U.S.-ROK working group’s discussions on THAAD may just be for appearances.
“China could’ve already gotten confirmation from the U.S. that they will not deploy THAAD on the Korean Peninsula,” a former military adviser to South Korea’s National Defense Committee told NK News on condition of anonymity.
“The talk on forming of the group might just be formal action taken to ease the South Korean government’s domestic need. The talk might end with no deployment of THAAD.”
However, another expert argued that THAAD will be deployed in South Korea sooner or later.
“To be precise, the U.S. was only said to be ‘holding talks‘ on the deployment of THAAD while they were having sanctions talk with China,” Kim Dong-yup, a researcher at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul told NK News.
“Abolishing the THAAD plan is the same as the U.S. saying that they will no longer include South Korea in the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance. In the U.S.’s eyes, THAAD is not an item that can be traded off China as it symbolizes the U.S. presence in the Korean region.”
The Chinese foreign ministry has yet to state a position on the working group’s THAAD talks