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Political parties remain divided over deployment of THAAD

South Korea’s political parties showed contrasting reactions to the arrival of parts of a US anti-missile system Tuesday, revealing a sharp divide over issues tied to the deployment, such as how to deal with North Korea’s military threats and strike a balance between two rivaling global powers -- the US and China.

The conservative parties, including the ruling Liberty Korea Party, hailed the surprise move, while the liberal opposition strongly protested against it.

“We welcome the quick decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system here as North Korea has constantly threatened the security of South Korea and neighboring countries, with the latest such action being Monday’s test-firing of four ballistic missiles,” Rep. Kim Sung-won, the spokesperson for the Liberty Korea Party, said in a statement.

Presidential hopefuls of the splinter conservative Bareun Party also praised the ministry’s bold decision.

Rep. Yoo Seong-min, who has been advocating the anti-missile defense system, urged that the deployment be completed before the next presidential election, which may come as early as May.

Another presidential hopeful, Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil of the same party, echoed Yoo’s view.

The liberal parties and its presidential aspirants, on the other hand, cried foul over the move, stressing a prudent approach as it involves issues such as a possible breach of the Korean Constitution and economic retaliation from China.

The leading presidential hopeful of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, Moon Jae-in, stressed that any plans related to the THAAD system should be made by the next administration.

“I do not understand why the government is proceeding with the THAAD deployment now,” he told reporters after an election camp meeting. “The forthcoming administration could have used it as diplomatic leverage.”

The entire deployment process would take more time to be finished before the upcoming presidential election, Moon added.

South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung of the same party also denounced the government for quickly proceeding with the deployment without any discussion or explanation.

The opposition parties also viewed it as a violation of the Constitution, saying acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is substituting for President Park Geun-hye, “ignored the opinions in the National Assembly,” which is a constitutional institute. The Democratic Party added Hwang is abusing his power to decide on an important issue of national security, in the absence of the president.

Park, who was impeached by the National Assembly on Dec. 9 over a corruption scandal, is currently suspended of her presidential power and is awaiting the Constitutional Court’s decision on her ouster. If the court rules to remove her from office, the nation has to elect a new leader within 60 days.

The missile defense system has long been a key political agenda in Korea, as parties across the aisle hold conflicting views on it. After President Park Geun-hye announced the deployment of the THAAD system last July, the administration was harshly hit by opponents who called it a “hasty decision.”

In February, Defense Minister Han Min-koo and his US counterpart James Mattis agreed to complete the deployment “promptly” in a phone conversation.

By Jo He-rim (