South Korea’s leading presidential candidate has criticized the United States for hastily installing a controversial missile system in his country and circumventing the nation’s democratic process.
Speaking in an interview with The Washington Post that was published on Tuesday, Moon Jae-in of the liberal Minjoo Party said he had certain reservations about the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in South Korea at this particular time.
“I don’t believe the US has the intention [to influence our election], but I do have some reservations,” he said, expressing concern that Washington was acting to box him in as the likely future president on the issue.
“It is not desirable for the [caretaker] South Korean government to deploy THAAD hastily at this politically sensitive time, with the presidential election approaching, and without going through the democratic process, an environmental assessment or a public hearing,” Moon said.
He then asked, “Would it happen this way in the United States? Could the administration make a unilateral decision without following democratic procedures, without ratification or agreement by Congress?”
Moon is widely expected to win South Korea’s presidential election, due next Tuesday. The country’s former president, Park Geun-hye, was impeached and is on trial on bribery charges. If he wins the election, Moon will immediately take over the presidential office without the usual transition period since Park has been discharged from the post.
The Washington Post said the US military “acted swiftly” to get THAAD up and running after candidate Moon pledged to review the former Park government’s decision to deploy the system.
The THAAD was set up in South Korea’s Seongju, in North Gyeongsang Province, last week. It has been declared operational.
The deployment, which came amid tensions with North Korea, faced opposition by people in South Korea, including the residents of Seongju.
Privately, the US daily said, Moon’s aides said that they were “furious” about the swift installation of the THAAD, adding that although it is designed to shoot down North Korean missiles, many South Koreans fear that it would make them more of a target.
Moon said during the interview that he wanted Seoul to be “able to take the lead on matters on the Korean Peninsula.”
“I do not see it as desirable for South Korea to take the back seat and watch discussions between the US and China,” he said, adding, however, that he would not approach or open talks with Pyongyang without “fully consulting” Washington.
Moon further warned that the THAAD deployment could undermine South Koreans’ trust in Washington and complicate the two countries’ security alliance.
“If South Korea can have more time to process this matter democratically, the US will gain a higher level of trust from South Koreans and, therefore, the alliance between the two nations will become even stronger,” Moon said.
The 64-year-old Moon is a former human rights lawyer who served as chief of staff of former president Roh Moo-hyun. He is closely associated with the “sunshine policy” of engagement with North Korea.
Moon, according to the Post, wants to reopen an inter-Korean industrial park and has in TV debates talked about South Korea taking the initiative on North Korea. He also believes that Seoul, rather than Washington, should have the operational control of the military alliance if a war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula.
In the Tuesday interview, he indicated he would even be willing to travel to Pyongyang in an effort to bring about the denuclearization of North Korea.
“I could sit down with Kim Jong-un but I will not meet him for the sake of meeting him,” he said, referring to the North Korean leader. “I will meet Kim Jong-un when preconditions of resolving the nuclear issue are assured.”