SEOUL: South Korean military officials deliberately withheld information from the president about the arrival of new launchers for a controversial US anti-missile system, his office said Wednesday.
Documents submitted to Moon Jae-In shortly after he came to office this month were redacted to remove mention of four new rocket launchers for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
The South agreed last year to deploy the missile interceptor system to guard against threats from nuclear-armed North Korea, despite angry opposition from China, which believes THAAD could undermine its own military capability.
Two missile launchers were already in place in the southern county of Seongju, and the existence of four more had widely been suspected but not announced.
However, top brass who briefed Moon’s national security adviser last week deliberately excised references to any new launchers, or to the total number in-country, Moon’s spokesman said.
“These parts… were included in the original briefing report written by a working-level official but later deleted by his supervisors,” Yoon Young-Chan told reporters.
All military officials involved in the production of the report admitted these key parts were removed in the editing process, Yoon added.
Defense Minister Han Min-Koo eventually admitted the presence of the new launchers when pressed by Moon in a phone conversation on Tuesday, according to Yoon.
Han was appointed by ousted president Park Geun-Hye. His successor is yet to be named.
The new launchers arrived in the South before Moon took office on May 10 and are currently stored at a US military base in the country, Moon’s office said, without elaborating further.
The US has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea—a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
No specific reason was given for the omission by military chiefs, but the left-leaning Moon has previously expressed ambivalence over THAAD.
The conservative government of Park greenlighted the installation of the THAAD system despite strong objections—and political and economic retaliation—from China.
Moon wants to put the deployment on hold, saying it should be discussed and approved by parliament before being fully rolled out.