Eleven days after South Korea agreed to let the United States install an advanced missile defense system in the country, North Korea appeared to express its displeasure by launching three ballistic missiles into the sea.
The North Korean projectiles — two short-range Scuds and one medium-range Rodong-1 missile — were launched between 5:45am and 6:40am local time on Tuesday. The first two missiles flew about 350 miles (500-600 kilometers) before splashing into the Sea of Japan, according to a statement from Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff cited by Yonhap news agency. The trajectory of the third missile is still under investigation.
The missiles possessed the range to reach any target in South Korea, including Seongju, the mountainous area about 135 miles south of Seoul where the US plans to put its Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. THAAD uses high-powered radar and truck-mounted launchers to shoot down incoming missiles. On July 8, following a series of North Korean ballistic missile tests, the US and South Korea announced that a THAAD battery would be deployed to Seongju by the end of 2017.
Jeon Ha-kyu, a spokesperson for Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement on Tuesday that the latest North Korean launch "can be interpreted as Pyongyang's clear message that it can attack Seongju and any other part of South Korea." The launch was also described as an "armed protest" by Pyongyang, according to Yonhap.
Beijing has spoken out against the plan to put a THAAD system in South Korea, likely because the defense battery could also be used to monitor Chinese military activity and shoot down Chinese missiles if a conflict were to break out in the region.
On Monday, the US military allowed reporters to check out a THAAD system on Guam, a move that Stars and Stripes described as a bid to help the South Korean government convince the public that the defense battery is safe and necessary for national defense.
Seongju residents have complained that they weren't consulted about the THAAD plan, and raised concerns about the impact the system could have on their health, the environment, and the local economy. When South Korea's prime minister, defense minister, and other officials visited the region on Friday, they were surrounded by angry farmers on tractors, who pelted them with eggs and water bottles.
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