The decision to allow the U.S. to deploy THAAD has been controversial in South Korea for several reasons. First, China is deeply opposed to this deployment because they think the sophisticated THAAD radars will allow the U.S. to take a deep look into China. As a result, China has imposed informal economic sanctions on South Korea in an effort to force South Korea to reject the deployment. Second, the deployment did not receive Parliamentary approval. Indeed, the deployment of THAAD has been a major focus of the South Korean elections, which occur on May 9. The leading candidate, Moon Jae-in, has called for an immediate halt to the deployment.
Given that the U.S. has a deep interest in protecting its military bases in South Korea from North Korean missile attack, you would think that the Administration would want to maintain a low profile on the THAAD deployment during this critical election. After all, the U.S. wants to be able to persuade the winner--especially if it is Moon Jae-in--that deployment of THAAD is in the interests of both South Korea and the U.S. despite the Chinese opposition.
Sadly, President Trump doesn't seem to have understood this, and just made comments to the press about the THAAD deployment that already has affected the South Korean elections and will significantly increase the chances that South Korea will halt the deployment of THAAD. He announced (apparently without warning South Korea) that we would demand that South Korea pay for THAAD, despite a previous agreement that the U.S. would pay for the deployment:
Read more here.To protect against a North Korean attack, the United States is on the verge of making a new antimissile system operational in South Korea. Mr. Trump said in the interview that he would seek to have South Korea pay for the system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad, putting its cost around $1 billion.Under its arrangement with Washington, South Korea was to provide land and build a base for the Thaad system, while the United States would pay for it and cover its operational costs.In South Korea, Mr. Trump’s comment shook the election campaign to choose a successor next month to Park Geun-hye, the ousted president. Ms. Park’s decision to accept the Thaad deployment has been one of the most contentious issues on the trail, and Moon Jae-in, the leading candidate, seized on the remarks and, through a spokesman, called for a halt to the deployment.“We must consider whether it conforms to the spirit of the alliance,” the spokesman, Youn Kwan-suk, said on Friday, accusing Mr. Trump of “demanding unilaterally and without close bilateral consultations that South Korea pay the cost” of the missile defense system.
Remarkably, despite the facts that the U.S. has a vital interest in the deployment of THAAD, that South Korea only reluctantly agreed to allow this deployment, and the fact that THAAD was a leading issue in the South Korean elections, President Trump decides that it is time for an Asian variant of "we will build a wall, and they will pay for it." The result will be that South Korean opposition to THAAD will grow, and the U.S. may have to stop its deployment, thereby removing one of the few defenses against a North Korean missile attack against our bases in South Korea.
Both China and North Korea must be thrilled.