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South Korea

South Korea says securing THAAD missile site on Lotte Group golf course could be delayed

Contract on THAAD deployment site is with firm that relies on Chinese tourists for much of its revenue

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 10:30pm

The signing of a contract which would secure the location of a US missile defence system in South Korea could be delayed, Seoul’s defence ministry said on Monday.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system is due to be deployed on land which is now part of a golf course owned by the Lotte Group conglomerate in the Seongju region, southeast of South Korea’s capital Seoul.

“The plan to go ahead with the exchange will be signed by mid-January, but there is a possibility it will be slightly delayed,” South Korean defence ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told a regular news briefing.

“Lotte needs to hold a meeting of the board of directors to approve the final assessment fee,” Moon said.

“We understand that the meeting has not happened yet, but will be held soon”.

South Korea and the US say the deployment of THAAD is designed to protect against North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic capabilities.

But Beijing objects strongly to its use in South Korea, where it says THAAD’s powerful radar could penetrate Chinese territory, leading to calls from some South Korea opposition leaders to delay or cancel its deployment.

A person familiar with the matter told Xinhua that Lotte may refrain from signing the deal as the retail giant relies heavily on Chinese tourists for much of its revenue.

Stores of Lotte Duty Free, South Korea’s largest duty free operator, are known to generate over two-thirds of total revenue from Chinese travellers. Lotte is also running department stores in China’s major cities.

Lotte was originally scheduled to hold the board of directors’ meeting in early January to determine the contract with the South Korean military, but it was postponed on concerns about businesses in China, according to the source.

Moon Jae-in, a former opposition leader who currently leads polls of presidential hopefuls, has said its deployment should wait until the next South Korean administration is in place.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is expected to run for president of South Korea and is currently polling second behind Moon in surveys of potential candidates, said on Sunday it is appropriate for THAAD to be deployed in the country, however.

South Korea has been gripped by a political crisis since lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in December to impeach President Park Geun-hye over an influence-peddling scandal. The motion is now with the Constitutional Court and will trigger an early presidential election if upheld.

The deployment of THAAD in rural Seongju has been met with protests from farmers concerned that the sophisticated missile defence system’s advanced radar will damage local melon crops and make the small town a target of a North Korean attack.

Additional reporting by Xinhua