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More prudence required

June 24,2017
President Moon Jae-in has once again fueled the controversy over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in South Korea. In Thursday’s interview with Reuters, Moon said he received a briefing from security officials that Seoul and Washington agreed to deploy a Thaad launcher in the second half of the year and the remaining five launchers next year. If his remarks are correct, South Korea and the United States quickly switched the original plan to the deployment of all six launchers within this year. The U.S. forces in South Korea brought in all the launchers this spring and two of them are already in operation in Seongju, North Gyeongsang.

In regard to the shift, the Ministry of National Defense stays mum. But even if Moon’s words are correct, it is not appropriate for him to mention it with less than a week before a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington. North Korea is developing engines for its ICBMs to reach the U.S. mainland. Following its recent sending of a drone to the South to take pictures of the Thaad site in Seongju, suspicious movements are being observed at the North’s nuclear test site in Punggyeri, South Hamgyong.

The decision to speed up the Thaad deployment was made by the previous administration. Military plans can change in accordance with changes in circumstances and shifts in policy direction. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and our defense minister Han Min-koo both announced they will deploy and operate the Thaad battery consisting of six launchers within the year.

The controversy over the deployment is our domestic issue. We wonder if it is appropriate for Moon to make the controversy public even before the government’s investigation of the defense ministry’s misreporting to him is complete. If the rush to deploy them was really ill-conceived, the government can fix it later.

Even though Moon opposed the Thaad deployment during the campaign, as commander in chief he must approach it carefully. Though his remarks could be aimed at encouraging China to take part in the sanctions on North Korea, we nevertheless are skeptical.

A civic group’s protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, scheduled for Saturday, is also not a good sign. We are concerned about a possibility of the protest stoking up more controversy down the road. We hope Moon acts more prudently in the future.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 24, Page 26