South Korean corporation Lotte officially completed its agreement with the Defense Ministry to hand over its golf course in Seongju County for the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system. On February 28, Lotte agreed to give up the golf course in exchange for government-owned land that formerly housed a military base in Namyangju City.

Having acquired the site for the THAAD system, the Defense Ministry announced that its next step is to work out the exact terms for how the U.S. military will take control of the property according to the two countries’ Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The two countries will work out a deal on a basic design concept for the deployment site, complete an environmental impact report and come up with a plan for the construction process. The Defense Ministry is aiming to complete the entire THAAD deployment process before the end of this year.

Since last September, the government had been in talks with Lotte about acquiring the Lotte Skyhill Golf Course for the purpose of turning the land into the site for the THAAD deployment. Lotte and the Defense Ministry had planned to complete their deal in January of this year. Due to pressures from China and the anti-THAAD movement in South Korea, however, Lotte delayed the process for one month before signing the agreement.

China, which has been vehemently opposing the deployment of the U.S. missile system in Korea, took measures to put economic pressures on Lotte’s business ventures in China. The Chinese government ordered unexpected tax audits and safety inspections on Lotte’s operations in Beijing. Earlier this month, the Chinese government ordered a halt on the construction of a Lotte theme-park in northeastern China.

Seongju and Gimcheon residents as well as members of the Won Buddhist religious community also had been pressuring Lotte and the Defense Ministry to call off their deal. Since January of this year, the residents and Won Buddhists had been protesting in front of Lotte department stores across South Korea. They also vowed to boycott Lotte products and services if Lotte moves forward with the Defense Ministry’s deal.

Immediately following Lotte’s decision to relinquish its land to make way for the THAAD deployment, residents of Seongju County and Gimcheon City, Won Buddhist clergy, and South Korean peace activists opposing the THAAD missile system held a protest rally in front of the Defense Ministry. During the press conference portion of the rally, residents and activists criticized the Defense Ministry for rushing to push along the preparations for the THAAD deployment even as the Constitutional Court deliberates the impeachment of Park Geun-hye.

Opponents of the THAAD deployment had hoped to delay the land acquisition process for the deployment site beyond the next presidential election (which is projected to happen in May, 60 days after Park Geun-hye is officially impeached) and pressure the next administration to reverse the deal made with the U.S. government. Once the Defense Ministry hands the land over to the USFK, construction may begin immediately, and the residents of Seongju and Gimcheon have vowed to block it.

 

By ZoominKorea staff

 

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