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News Analysis: Shift in THAAD site in S. Korea nothing to solve controversies

Xinhua, August 4, 2016 Adjust font size:

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Thursday that where Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is sited can be re-considered, but it has nothing to solve over numerous controversies emerging since its deployment decision to its soil.

On July 8, Seoul and Washington abruptly announced their agreement to deploy one THAAD battery by the end of next year. Five days later, the site was fixed in Seongju county, some 250 km southeast of Seoul.

Seongju residents were enraged at the out-of-the-blue, closed-door decision, throwing water bottles and eggs at Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-an and Defense Minister Han Min-koo, who visited the county on July 15 to appease locals. At the time, Park was not in the country to attend the ASEM summit.

Local residents have since held candlelight rallies every night to protest against the THAAD deployment in their hometown. On one side of the night event venue, organizers have received applications for the defection as a member of the ruling Saenuri Party.

Baek Cheol-hyun, co-chair of the anti-THAAD committee consisted of Seongju villagers, told a press conference on Tuesday that THAAD must not be deployed in any place of South Korean soil as he and other Seongju residents informed of what THAAD is.

Park said the deployment site can be moved if a new site proves appropriate through close and precise deliberations. However, she added a proviso that the new site must be found inside Seongju county.

Furthermore, Park met with the ruling party's first-term lawmakers in the name of hearing public voices from Seongju county, instead of meeting directly with angry residents.

Participants in the meeting with Park were 10 first-term lawmakers of the Saenuri Party and a second-term Saenuri member who was re-elected in Seongju county in the April general elections. All came from South Gyeongsang province, a traditional political home turf for Park and the governing party.

The second-term lawmaker, Lee Wan-young, appeared at a local radio program saying on Thursday that it would work if Park comes to Seongju to directly meet and talk with people.

Local newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun said in a commentary that Park should have met first with Seongju residents, not with the region's lawmakers, proposing to invite resident representatives to the presidential office if Park worries about her guard from angry protesters.

The commentary suspected that Park's meeting with Saenuri lawmakers may have a political intention ahead of the party's convention to select a new leadership. The ruling party is allegedly divided into a pro-Park faction and other non-Park factions.

Despite Park's courageous decision to review the shift in the THAAD site, more courageous determination will be needed to alleviate growing public oppositions to the U.S. weapons system and rising concerns from neighboring countries.

China and Russia have strongly objected to THAAD in South Korea as it damages security interests of the two countries and breaks strategic balance in the region.

Experts here said South Korea would face difficulties gaining cooperation from China and Russia to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, while causing diplomatic and economic losses from the THAAD deployment.

Public opinion here is also changing into more objections to THAAD in their homeland. According to a survey of 1,000 adults conducted by local newspaper Media Today between July 21 and July 22, 53.1 percent demanded re-negotiation of the deployment decision. Calls for the installation as planned took up 42.6 percent.

It was a shift from local pollster Realmeter's February survey that showed 49.4 percent in favor of and 42.3 percent against the THAAD deployment. Growing awareness about what THAAD is helped more people change positions.

Park's approval rating posted a double-digit decline in her political home since her decision to deploy the U.S. anti-missile system. Park's support rate in North Gyeongsang province, a traditional home ground for herself and the ruling party, tumbled 14.8 percentage points from a month earlier to 27.7 percent. It was based on a survey of 1,224 adults conducted by local pollster Research View between July 29 and July 31.

It marked the first time that Park's approval rating fell below 30 percent, once called a cemented supporting level, in the region. Negative assessment on Park's management of state affairs was 57.7 percent, more than double the support rate of 27.7 percent.

Another political hometown of the conservative party, South Gyeongsang province, posted 28.7 percent in support rate for Park. Negative assessment in the region almost doubled at 56.8 percent.

The THAAD deployment decision alienated people in the southeast regions from the president.

Nationwide approval rating for Park inched up 1.4 percentage points from a month earlier to 28.0 percent, but it was less than half the negative assessment of 59.8 percent. Enditem