China Threatens Arms Race Over U.S. Missile Defense

THAAD deployed to South Korea

S. Korea Begins Process To Deploy THAAD

Trucks are seen carrying parts required to set up the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system that had arrived at the Osan Air Base on March 6 / Getty Images

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China on Tuesday reacted harshly to the U.S. military's deployment of an advanced missile defense system to South Korea—one day after North Korea fired a salvo of 600-mile range missiles toward Japan.

The first battery of the Army's Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, a long-range mobile missile defense system, arrived in South Korea on Tuesday for deployment to a location in the southeastern part of the country.

"We solemnly object to South Korea and the U.S. deployment of THAAD and will resolutely take necessary actions in order to safeguard our security interests," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing.

"We will take steps to maintain our security interests," he said.

Official Chinese state-run propaganda outlets have warned in recent days that the THAAD deployment could result in a break in relations with South Korea, a trading partner.

China also has taken steps to sanction the South Korean Lotte conglomerate, forcing the closure of 23 retail stores in China. Lotte provided the land for the THAAD batteries.

The deployment has been delayed for three years over Chinese pressure on South Korea. The defenses were first requested by U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti in early 2014 to respond to growing North Korean missile threats.

The Obama administration, however, prevented the deployment over concerns it would upset China.

Chinese authorities also allowed unusual public protests against Lotte in recent days, action similar to China's unleashing of public protests against Japanese interests in China several years ago after Tokyo nationalized several islands in the Senkaku island chain in the East China Sea.

The official Xinhua news agency warned that THAAD would produce "an arms race in the region."

China is opposing the missile defense system because its powerful radar allows sensors to peer into Chinese territory in northeastern China where a large number of missiles are deployed.

China also has alleged in state media reports that THAAD, along with sea-based Aegis warships equipped with missile defenses, are part of a U.S. effort to set up a networked regional missile defense system.

The Pentagon and Trump administration has remained silent on the Chinese bluster against THAAD.

Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris limited his comments to defending the missile defenses as needed in response to North Korean missile threats.

"Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday’s launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea," Harris said in statement. "We will resolutely honor our alliance commitments to South Korea and stand ready to defend ourselves, the American homeland, and our allies."

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also has not addressed the Chinese threats and instead limited his remarks to reiterating U.S. support to Japan and South Korea.

THAAD missiles can only be used against offensive missiles and pose no threat to other countries, defense officials said.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R., Ariz.) praised the THAAD deployment.

"The arrival of the first elements of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system in South Korea last night is a positive step forward for U.S.-ROK cooperation to confront North Korea’s escalating missile threat," McCain said.

He criticized China's response.

"Unfortunately yet predictably, China responded to the arrival of THAAD with vague threats against the United States and South Korea," McCain said.

"In recent months, China has waged a campaign of diplomatic bullying and economic coercion against South Korea in an attempt to stop the deployment of THAAD. But the reality is that this missile defense system is only necessary because China has aided and abetted North Korea for decades."

McCain said that if Beijing were concerned about the THAAD system it should halt efforts to undermine South Korean sovereignty and pressure North Korea into halting provocations.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas), also supported the deployment.

"North Korea’s recent missile launches and advancing nuclear weapons programs represent a clear and present threat to our national security," Thornberry said in a statement.

"The U.S. deployment of the THAAD missile defense system to the Korean Peninsula is the right immediate step to enhance our regional defenses against North Korea. This defensive system deployment further demonstrates our alliance commitments to South Korea and Japan."

North Korea on Monday launched a salvo of four missiles identified by military analysts as Scud ER missile that were launched from northwestern North Korea into the Sea of Japan, including areas of Japan's 200 mile exclusive economic zone.

North Korean state media said the missiles were a test of a future attack on U.S. military bases in Japan.

The U.S. military operates Yokota air base in Japan that is a major hub for U.S. power projection in the region. The Yokosuka naval base also is a major military base.

The first two THAAD batteries arrived by transport aircraft at Osan air base, about 40 miles south of Seoul.