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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on July 19)

All News 07:14 July 19, 2016

THAAD disputes
Conflicts expose problems in dealing with controversy

The latest developments surrounding the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system here are exposing problems this country faces whenever it confronts an issue like this: incompetent government, populist politicians and selfish residents.

The primary blame for the U.S. antimissile system becoming another contentious issue should go to the Park administration. The way President Park Geun-hye, her ministers and aides are handling the issue shows how incompetent the government is.

First, the Park administration lacks willingness and the capacity to communicate with people on issues that are prone to controversy.

Whether to deploy the THAAD system here has long been a hot button issue in the country. The long-awaited announcement on the decision should have been made at the highest level of the government — the president.

But it was made by a deputy defense minister, and it was three days later that Park mentioned the issue when speaking to the weekly meeting with her Blue House aides.

Park, who was visiting Mongolia, sent Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn to Seongju on Friday to placate residents there. But this only exacerbated the situation, as Hwang was pelted with eggs and water bottles by angry residents. Besieged by a mob of protesters, Hwang was confined to a bus for more than six hours.

Police said they would seek criminal punishment against those who led the violent protests. Things like this often become another source of conflict between the government and local residents, which is why the government should have been wiser than rushing to send the prime minister to the town only two days after the announcement of Seongju as the THAAD site.

The Park administration was also clumsy in dealing with fears of the possible harmful effects from electromagnetic waves emitted by the radar — a key THAAD component.

The issue has long been a hotly debated subject since Seoul and Washington began discussing the THAAD system as a countermeasure to North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.

But it was only after the announcement was made on the site of the THAAD battery that the military opened a radar base that operates a more powerful radar than a THAAD radar to the media to prove that electromagnetic waves from it pose no environmental or health threats.

The South Korean and U.S. militaries also opened a THAAD battery in Guam to Korean media Monday.

It certainly is better late than never, but it would have been much better had they made such efforts before they announced the designation of Seongju as the site for the new THAAD battery.

As in disputes over similar projects, populist politicians are fanning conflicts between the government and residents.

Some opposition lawmakers are demanding that the THAAD deployment should get parliamentary approval or public endorsement through a national referendum. This negative reaction from the opposition camp is hardly surprising, but it is indeed disturbing that even ruling party lawmakers have joined the protest.

Twenty-one of the 25 Saenuri Party lawmakers representing Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province constituencies issued a statement protesting the selection of Seongju. They included members of Park's inner circle such as former ministers and senior Blue House aides.

Then comes the excessive "not in my backyard" sentiment among the Seongju residents. It is understandable — to an extent — that they fear the threats of a possible North Korea missile strike against the THAAD site and possible harmful effects from its radar. This would certainly affect its local economy too.

But this is a matter of national security. Everyone should be ready to make some kind of sacrifice to protect the lives and the properties of the nation. There are already numerous military facilities across the country and people living in those neighborhoods have given up some of their rights and welfare for national security.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, which means the two Koreas are still technically at war. It is sad that some are behaving as if they live in a wholly different country.

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