Week 6 of THAAD Opposition – Betrayal Fuels Protest
County Chief Kim Hang-gon became the target of Seongju residents’ ire when he held a surprise press conference on August 22 to propose the Defense Ministry choose an alternative site for the controversial U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). The proposal contradicts the official position that the Seongju residents had maintained since becoming the front line in the fight against THAAD deployment in late July – that THAAD should not be deployed anywhere in Korea.
Saenuri Party Representative Lee Wan-young and approximately 70 government employees were among the attendees at the county chief’s press conference. Chief Kim’s announcement came only 3 weeks after President Park Geun-hye, presumably caught off guard by the unrelenting opposition from Seongju’s residents, met with national assembly representatives of North Gyeongsang Province to invite suggestions for an alternative deployment site.
Outside the press conference, 450 police officers guarded the county chief’s office and blocked Seongju residents, who had learned of the press conference and rushed there to protest. “At the very least, we deserve to hear directly from the county chief himself,” yelled one resident, tearing up while the police dragged away another resident.
200 Seongju residents, including members of the Seongju Task Force to Oppose THAAD Deployment, held their own press conference on the same day to declare, “The [county chief’s] press conference contradicts the position of the residents and is invalid.”
“We have consistently said no to THAAD deployment anywhere on the Korean peninsula,” said Seongju Task Force Spokesperson Bae Eun-ha, “The county chief is out of touch with the residents and is alone in inviting THAAD deployment.”
The Defense Ministry has reportedly nominated the Lotte Skyhill Country Club, a golf course in Seongju’s Chojeon township as a possible alternative site for THAAD deployment. The golf course is located 18 km northwest of Seongju’s county office and 680 meters above sea level. [Read more]
U.S.-South Korea Joint Military Exercises Practice Collapsing North Korean Leadership
Civil society groups in South Korea protested the start of the U.S-South Korean Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG) joint military exercises on August 22. Peace and anti-war organizations gathered in front of the U.S. embassy to demand an end to the joint military exercises, which increase war and military tensions on the Korean Peninsula as well as the Northeast Asia region.
The UFG military exercises will continue until September 2. Over 25,000 U.S. and 50,000 South Korean troops are participating in the military exercises. Despite denial by the United Nations, U.S. and South Korea on the provocative nature of these war games, the UFG will include the exercise of Operation Plan (OPLAN) 5015, a war plan designed to carry out pre-emptive strikes against North Korean nuclear and missile bases, as well as the “decapitation” of North Korean leadership. The OPLAN 5015, which includes the “4D” strategy (Detect, Disrupt, Destroy, Defend), was first practiced at the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises earlier this year in March.
Civil society organizations protesting in front of the U.S. embassy included Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea (SPARK) and member organizations of the National Action to Oppose War and Realize Peace. The groups emphasized that the UFG military exercises are not for the defense of peace in the region but rather for pre-emptive attack intended to collapse North Korea’s leadership.
North Korea also denounced the U.S. for threatening peace in the region by conducting such provocative war games on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) published a statement by the North Korean foreign minister in response to the UFG military exercises – “The military drill is an unpardonable criminal act of pushing the situation of the Korean peninsula to the brink of a war as the situation there has become unprecedentedly [un]stable due to the U.S. introduction of nuclear strategic bombers, THAAD and other strategic assets into the peninsula and its vicinity.”
NORTH KOREA NEWS
North Korea’s Missile Test Diminishes Case for THAAD
In the midst of the U.S.-South Korean Ulchi-Freedom Guardian joint military exercises, North Korea successfully launched a missile from a submarine stationed on the coast of the East Sea. The Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) reached 500 km in distance (fired at a high angle) and landed in the sea near Japan. If fired at an ordinary trajectory, the missile is reportedly capable of reaching 1,000 km in distance.
Contrary to previous news coverage of North Korea’s missile tests, the U.S. media appears to be taking the latest missile test more seriously as experts have publicly assessed the SLBM launch as largely successful and a demonstration of “rapid progress.”
The latest missile test has also diminished the case for the U.S.’ deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea. Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis has stated that the submarine launcher is capable of being positioned outside the 120 degree detection range of the THAAD system and fire a long-range missile at a speed faster than that of the THAAD interceptor missile. This means North Korea’s increasing missile capacity could render the THAAD system ineffective against missiles aimed at U.S. bases in the Asia Pacific region.
SOUTH KOREA NEWS
Sewol Truth Commission Defies Government and Prepares Third Public Hearing
The Special Investigation Commission on the Sewol Ferry Disaster (hereonout referred to as Sewol Investigation Commission) is preparing for a third public hearing on September 1-2. Despite the South Korean government’s efforts to shut down the commission and its comprehensive investigation of the Sewol Ferry disaster, the Sewol Investigation Commission intends to continue with plans for holding its third public hearing next month.
The Sewol Investigation Commission has composed a list of individuals whom it will call on to testify at the September hearing. The commission released a list of 39 people to be subpoenaed. Included in the list is former Chief Secretary of the Presidential Office, Kim Ki-chun, who will be questioned about whether the government properly responded to the Sewol disaster. The newly chosen chief of the ruling Saenuri party and former presidential press secretary, Lee Jung-hyun and the former president of the Korean Broadcasting Company (KBS), Gil Hwan-young have also been selected to testify about the media coverage of the disaster. Lee Jung-hyun came under public scrutiny when audio recordings of his conversation with a KBS director revealed that Lee had pressured KBS not to air news that was critical of the Coast Guard and the government for inadequately handling the rescue operations for the Sewol disaster.
The topics slated to be discussed at the next hearing will include:
- The sufficiency of the investigation by the South Korean government of the Sewol Ferry disaster in its aftermath
- The sufficiency of efforts made by the rescue teams and the government in responding to the disaster
- The fairness of the reporting and news coverage around the disaster
- The state’s treatment of victims after the disaster
- The recovery of the Sewol ferry and investigation into the root causes of the ship’s sinking
The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries has argued that the Sewol Investigation Commission has no legal grounds to call the September public hearing as the investigation mandate is no longer in effect. The South Korean government had cut short the commission’s mandate to investigate on June 30. Since the government’s prematurely-forced termination of the investigation process, members of the Sewol Investigation Commission have been protesting to demand that the government re-authorize the investigation mandate to last at least through the original agreed time frame.
The Sewol Investigation Commission has countered the claims made by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries by pointing out that no stipulation in the Sewol Special Act prohibits the commission from holding a public hearing outside the mandated investigation period. The commission also criticized the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries for its lack of cooperation throughout the investigation process and refusal to take responsibility for its role in the disaster. The Sewol Investigation Commission has included four officers of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries on their list of people to testify at the September hearing.