By Rebecca Kheel - 02/08/16 10:56 AM EST
The United States and South Korea will begin discussions on placing an anti-missile system on the peninsula following North Korea’s rocket launch over the weekend.
"North Korea continues to develop their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and it is the responsibility of our alliance to maintain a strong defense against those threats,” Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander U.S. Forces Korea, said in a written statement Sunday. A Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system “can add an important capability in a layered and effective missile defense."
North Korea successfully launched a long-range rocket Saturday that it claims was a satellite.
But the United States and others around the globe have condemned the act as an illegal ballistic missile test. Saturday’s incident also comes on the heels of North Korea’s nuclear test last month.
The missile defense system, known as THAAD, is designed to shoot down incoming short-, medium- and intermediate-range missiles.
South Korea has previously resisted deploying a THAAD system to its soil because of opposition from China.
In response to the announcement on the THAAD discussions, China reiterated its opposition and said the deployment could escalate tensions on the peninsula.
“When pursuing its own security, one country should not impair other's security interests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
In a joint statement, the United States and South Korea said the system would only be focused on North Korea.
“If the THAAD system were deployed to the Korean Peninsula, it would be focused solely on North Korea and contribute to a layered missile defense that would enhance the Alliance’s existing missile defense capabilities against potential North Korean missile threats,” according to the statement.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who called for THAAD in South Korea after last month’s nuclear test, said underfunding missile defense in the United States has emboldened North Korea.
“The president's reluctance to face these dangers with resolve, much less a strategy, only allows them to proliferate,” Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a written statement Sunday.
“Seven years of underfunding for U.S. Missile Defense have given our adversaries uncontested opportunity to advance their capabilities. The president must show leadership in squarely facing the growing threats and in adequately funding our military to meet those threats.”