South Korean President Park Geun-hye delivers a speech on Liberation Day in the capital, Seoul, August 15, 2016. © Reuters
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has defended the deployment of an advanced US missile system in the East Asian nation despite fierce opposition inside and outside the country to the plan.
“The deployment of THAAD is an act of self-defense,” Park said in a televised Liberation Day speech on Monday in reference to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
Park said that her priority as president was to “protect the lives of our people from the reckless provocations of the North.”
The system will be installed by the end of next year to defend the country against nuclear and missile threats from North Korea as South Korea and the United States claim.
The decision to have the system deployed has been met with opposition both in South Korea as well as outside the country.
China and Russia say the system would threaten security, stability, and peace on the Korean Peninsula and do nothing to help denuclearize the volatile region.
Moscow and Beijing view the planned move as an attempt to put their military facilities within the range of US radars.
THAAD has also been the subject of domestic protests, particularly by the residents of Seongju, about 217 kilometers southeast of the capital Seoul, where the first battery will be installed.
Residents chant slogans during a protest against the government's decision to deploy a US THAAD unit in Seongju, South Korea, July 21, 2016. © Reuters
Residents say the system's powerful radar poses health and environmental risks and argue that its presence will make them a key military target.
Some opposition lawmakers have actively sided with the residents and called for the deployment to be scrapped -- a stance criticized by Park.
“I believe that such a matter ... Should not be the subject of a political fight,” Park said.
“If there is any other way to protect our people and the country, one should propose an alternative,” she added.
The announcement of the system deployment has also angered North Korea, which has threatened to take “physical action” in response to the decision.
In her speech, Park called on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapon program, adding that any provocative act by the North would be counter-productive.
“I urge the North Korean government to immediately stop all provocations and threats targeting South Korea as well as the development of weapons of mass destruction,” Park said.