North Korea is planning another intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test this Saturday. That’s according to the South Korean government, whose president says he wants Chinese and Russian help to resolve the current crisis. Despite Moon Jae-in’s comments, Seoul and Washington pushed ahead Thursday with the controversial rollout of a missile defense system — a move likely to further anger Beijing and Moscow.
Following an ICBM test that overflew Japan in August and the detonation of a hydrogen bomb last Sunday, all sides are scrambling to find a solution to the threat posed by Pyongyang.
For South Korea, that means deployment of the U.S.-supplied Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, the final parts of which arrived at a base 482 km south of Seoul Thursday. Four missile interceptors were “temporarily” installed alongside two others in operation since May.
A spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry said the move was necessary to counter increased threats from North Korea.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon told a meeting of defense ministers in Seoul Thursday that its intelligence agencies expect another ICBM test September 9. “The situation is very grave, it doesn’t seem much time is left before North Korea achieves its complete nuclear armament,” Lee said. “A special measure is urgently needed to stop their recklessness.”
But hundreds of anti-THAAD protesters — dozens of whom were injured — clashed with armored riot police outside the base in Seongju as they tried to block the road while the system was being delivered. Residents who live close to the base believe the presence of the missile defense system puts them at increased risk.
Residents of Seongju are not the only opponents of the THAAD system. China and Russia have loudly and consistently voiced their opposition to its use, claiming that it undermines the strategic security of the region and gives the U.S. the ability to spy on their military operations. South Korea said it is monitoring China’s response to the latest deployment.
At a time when tensions in the region are on a knife-edge, deploying the THAAD system is only likely to further antagonize China, a country the U.S. has repeatedly called on to do more to stifle Pyongyang’s missile development program.
And yet in Russia on Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in a joint statement with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said they would be seeking support from China and Russia to counter North Korea’s threat. “Now is the time to further increase sanctions and pressures against the North as much as possible rather than seeking dialogue,” the statement said.
China is stuck between an increasingly antagonistic Pyongyang regime and pressure from the international community, including Australia, the U.K., the U.N., the EU, and most notably, the U.S. — which has repeatedly threatened to cut off trading ties with the Middle Kingdom.
China said Thursday that it agreed the U.N. should take more action against North Korea, but it added that dialogue was key to resolving the crisis.