South Korea is expected to speed up the process of deploying the U.S. missile shield in its soil after Lotte Group, the country’s fifth-largest conglomerate, decided to give a green light to the land swap contract with the defense ministry.
A South Korean defense ministry official told Xinhua that he was informed of Lotte’s decision to approve the deal to exchange its golf course in southeast South Korea for military land in Gyeonggi province near the capital Seoul.
Lotte International, a Lotte Group unit possessing the golf course where the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery is set to be sited, held a board of directors meeting earlier in the day to approve the deal.
Seoul and Washington agreed in July last year to deploy one THAAD battery by the end of this year. The site was changed in November into the golf course amid strong oppositions from residents.
The ministry official said the signing ceremony would happen as early as Tuesday, adding that more details would be announced separately after the signing.
The land swap deal was initially scheduled to be inked in January, but it was delayed amid strong oppositions at home and abroad. On Feb. 3, Lotte held a board meeting, in which it failed to endorse the contract.
The signing is forecast to accelerate the remaining procedures for the THAAD deployment in South Korean soil.
The procedures include South Korea’s provision of the golf course to the U.S. military, the basic designing of the base, the evaluation of environmental effects and the construction.
To save time, an unidentified South Korean military official was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying that the processes of the land provision and the basic designing will be conducted simultaneously.
The ministry already selected a company in December to evaluate the environmental effects, according to Yonhap. The evaluation through documents has been under way since then.
The golf course is equipped with most of necessary facilities, including electricity, tap water and entrance lanes, indicating earlier-than-expected completion of the base construction.
Local media speculations say that the THAAD deployment process may be completed between May and July. The South Korean military is hurriedly pushing it as domestic political uncertainty can delay the installation of the U.S. anti-missile system.
President Park Geun-hye has been struggling with a corruption scandal surrounding her and her longtime friend. Park’s impeachment motion was passed in December in the parliament, suspending her for almost three months.
The constitutional court is widely forecast to decide whether to permanently remove Park from office or reinstate her before or on March 13. A presidential election must be held in 60 days if Park is ousted.
Major presidential hopefuls in the opposition bloc have taken cautious position about THAAD, calling for the final decision on the deployment to be relayed to next government.
Meanwhile, Lotte approved the land exchange deal despite strong objections from residents living in the Seongju county and the Gimcheon city which borders the county and faces the golf course.
The residents have held candlelit rallies every night since the THAAD deployment decision, protesting against the government that failed to collect their opinion in advance.
Parliamentary and public objections have been harsh as the THAAD is not aimed to shoot down missiles from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), but to make South Korea become part of the U.S. missile defense networking in Northeast Asia.
DPRK missiles targeting South Korea fly at an altitude of less than 40 km. THAAD is designed to intercept missiles at an altitude of 40-150 km.
The THAAD’s X-band radar can peer deep into the territories of neighboring countries including China and Russia, damaging security interests of the two countries and breaking regional balance. Enditem