South Korea and the US have finalised the deployment of a powerful anti-missile system in the Korean peninsula, over which China has raised serious concerns. Pentagon said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) mechanism is directly aimed at countering threats from North Korea.
The location of the high-tech anti-ballistic interception system is expected to be decided in the coming weeks, a joint statement issued by South Korea's Defence Ministry and US's Defense Department said. However, the exact location will not be made public due to operational sensitivities. The Thaad, an advanced air defence shield built by American manufacturer Lockheed Martin, is expected to be operational in 2017.
In what seemed to be a reference to China and Russia – the two countries who have expressed concerns over the deployment of the system – the statement read: "When the Thaad system is deployed to the Korean Peninsula, it will be focused solely on North Korean nuclear and missile threats and would not be directed towards any third party nations."
The deployment of the sophisticated missile defence system has been a thorny issue ever since discussions between the South and the US began in February 2016. Talks kicked off shortly after Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and followed it up with a long-range rocket launch in February. Following which, Washington argued that it is necessary to defend its allies and push back threats from the North in the wake of increasing tensions in the region.
Immediately after the announcement, China's Foreign Ministry released a statement denouncing the move and said that this would seriously undermine security in the region. According to Reuters, the Chinese ministry said: "China strongly urges the United States and South Korea to stop the deployment process of the Thaad anti-missile system, not take any steps to complicate the regional situation and do nothing to harm China's strategic security interests."
The latest development has come at a time when the North is infuriated by US's decision to sanction Kim Jong-un directly. Pyongyang has warned the direct sanction on its leader is tantamount to "declaration of war".