The United States military plans to complete the deployment of an advanced missile-defense system in South Korea on Thursday, days after North Korea detonated what it called a missile-delivered hydrogen bomb in an underground nuclear test, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.
Despite angry protests from China, Seoul and Washington have agreed to push ahead with the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad, which they said was designed to protect South Korean and American troops from possible missile attacks from North Korea.
China has vehemently opposed the Thaad deployment, arguing that it would exacerbate tensions with North Korea and could undermine China’s own nuclear deterrent by giving the United States another means to monitor its missiles. Angry Chinese have boycotted South Korean cars and cultural offerings, like TV dramas.
Villagers in Seongju, South Korea, where a Thaad battery was to be installed, also opposed the deployment, fearing that the powerful radar would hurt their health, a concern the Defense Ministry said was scientifically groundless. Joining forces with the farmers were political activists who argued that the Thaad deployment would only increase military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
In April, the United States installed the radar and two of the six interceptor-missile launchers of the Thaad battery on an abandoned hilltop golf course in Seongju, 135 miles southeast of Seoul, the capital. The battery became operational immediately.
On Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said the remaining four launchers would be installed on Thursday in response to “North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats.”
As word of the planned deployment spread, Seongju villagers blocked roads with farm equipment to stop military vehicles from carrying additional equipment to the Thaad base.
South Korea and the United States agreed in July 2016 to the Thaad deployment.
During his election campaign, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, then a liberal opposition leader, cast doubt on the usefulness of Thaad and said he would review South Korea’s decision to accept its deployment. After taking office in May, he suspended the installation of the four remaining launchers while ordering a study on the environmental impact of the deployment.
But after North Korea conducted two intercontinental ballistic missile testslast month, he ordered his government to cooperate with the United States in installing the remaining launchers.
Mr. Moon promised the installation would happen quickly when he talked to President Trump on the phone on Monday, a day after North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.