Asia Pacific / Politics

Former U.N. chief Ban throws weight behind THAAD deployment

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

Former United Nations chief and presumptive South Korean presidential candidate Ban Ki-moon has backed the deployment later this year of a U.S. anti-missile system to the country amid North Korea’s progress in its nuclear and missile programs.

“Given the reality of the Korean Peninsula being in an almost quasi-war situation, it is right for the government to take such a measure,” Ban was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying during a trip to the South Korean Navy’s 2nd Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, 70 km south of Seoul. “I understand that it is to be deployed for defensive purposes as North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and accumulate ballistic missile technology,” he said.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year and launched more than 20 missiles as part of its ramped up weapons programs. In a New Year’s address, leader Kim Jong Un said his country was close to test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system has stoked concerns in Beijing and Moscow that its X-band radar can peer into the two countries. Media reports have also cited Chinese officials as saying that the true purpose of the deployment is to track missiles launched from China. Seoul and Washington have said THAAD will only be used to defend against North Korean ballistic missiles.

Moscow and Beijing said Thursday that they had agreed to take unspecified “countermeasures” in response to the move.

Ban, who was foreign minister under late President Roh Moo-hyun, reportedly brushed off Russian and Chinese criticism of the plan Sunday, saying the issue can be resolved via diplomatic means.

On Monday, the South Korean Defense Ministry said that the THAAD deployment may be delayed due to “administrative” problems involved in the military’s acquisition of the land in Seongju, 296 km south of Seoul, Yonhap reported.

Ban, who returned to South Korea on Thursday, is believed to be testing the waters for a presidential run after President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment last month following an influence-peddling scandal. The country’s Constitutional Court is currently debating her fate.

Ban spoke with Park on Monday over the telephone, spokesman Lee Do-woon said in a press release.

“I should have visited you in person,” he was cited as saying. “It is unfortunate that the situation is like this. I hope you will manage the situation well.”

If the former U.N. secretary-general throws his hat into the race, due to be held before Dec. 20, his top challenger is likely to be Moon Jae-in, the former leader of South Korea’s main opposition party who lost the last presidential election to Park by 3 percentage points.

Moon has said he would reconsider the THAAD deployment plan.