Visit to Seongju: One year after it’s chosen as the THAAD deployment site

Part of the parking lot outside the Seongju county office has been used as the place to hold anti-THAAD rally since July 12, 2016, the day when South Korea and the United States announced to deploy THAAD in Seongju county. Every night after 7 pm, local residents hold candle rally and sometimes musical concerts there.Photo: Chunmei/Sino-US.com

Seongju county where parts of the US-built anti-missile system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), are now deployed, is around 4 hours’ drive from Seoul, capital of South Korea. Located in North Gyeongsang, a southern province in the country, Seongju county is populated by less than 50,000 residents and had been a serene area specializing in growing Korean melon, or Chamoe, until South Korea and the United States announced to deploy THAAD here on July 13, 2016.

Local residents began protesting against the deployment of THAAD from that day, with banners hanging everywhere in the county and rallies being held outside the county office. But with the deployment site later being changed from Seongsan-ri, a village located near central part of the county, to a remote and less-populated village, Soseong-ri, around 30 minutes’ drive from the central part of the county, some residents gradually withdrew from the protest and went back to their trivial daily life.

Now, while the central areas in the county are back to normal, except the anti-THAAD banners still hanging on the streets and a peaceful candle rally being held every day outside the county office, the current protests against THAAD are focused in Soseong-ri, the nearest village to the location of the THAAD system, which used to be a golf course owned by Lotte.

Police on guard

At around 2 pm on July 12, 2017, villagers of Soseong-ri gathered at the village hall for a routine anti-THAAD rally. About 70 people sit in front of the village hall watching anti-THAAD performances on the stage - some making speeches, some singing, some playing instruments – different ways in which the local residents showed their anger toward the deployment of THAAD.

At the same time, more than 10 police officers were standing on one side of the road outside the village hall, holding parasols in hand with the temperature over 30℃. Local villagers said more police were dispatched that day as a few motor tractors were supposed to be conveyed to the THAAD deployment site, which was stopped by the villagers.

Anti-rallies are held every Wednesday and Saturday, and there are anti-THAAD banners everywhere in the village. Also, the only road to the golf course has been blocked by local villagers to stop any military materials from being transferred into the THAAD deployment site.

Bae Miyoung, a member of the Seongju anti-THAAD committee, told the sino-us.com that the anti-THAAD rally and other efforts will never stop unless THAAD is removed from South Korea.

More than 10 police officers were standing on one side of the road outside the Soseong-ri village hall on July 12, 2017, holding parasols in hand with the temperature over 30℃. Photo: Chunmei/Sino-US.com

The entrance to the golf course has been banned by the police and people are not permitted to approach and photograph, though it is possible when they are accompanied by a local villager.

While the golf course can still be found on online map Naver Map, it is also noted as being closed now.

On April 26 this year, parts of the THAAD system were moved here as authorities were concerned about the escalation of the North Korean missile tests.

While South Korea claimed that THAAD system is necessary to mitigate the threat from North Korea, it is strongly opposed by both residents in Seongju and China which regards THAAD as a threat to its own security.

A look into THAAD deployment site

In February this year, Lotte and South Korea Defense Ministry signed a land swap deal and decided to locate the THAAD system in the golf course in the area of Dalmasan in Seongju county. 680 meters above sea level and around 18 kilometers north off the Seongju county office, this area was chosen as it has higher altitude and is less populated than other previously considered spots.

Dalmasan is the name of the mountain by the golf course, and the air distance between its top and the golf course is only 340 meters.

While the golf course which occupies around a quarter of the total area of Seongju county used to be open to the public, it’s now strictly controlled by the military, making the top of Dalmasan the best location to be able to see the existing parts of THAAD system.

Although the top of Dalmasan is not a military area, police and soldiers sometimes stand on guard. It is also sometimes visited by reporters from around the world to see the deployment site of THAAD, who are guided by local residents.

The path to the top is steep but local residents have tied little blue banners on trees in case climbers get lost.

It takes around one hour to the top of Dalmasan, and one of the THAAD launchers which is about 1.5 km away from the top can be clearly seen through a telescope.

Although the deployment of the whole THAAD system is yet to be completed, local residents, especially those in Gimcheon city which is next to Soseong-ri, strongly opposed the deployment of THAAD in this area, as the radar faces right to its direction in the north, according to a local guide.

Impact of THAAD on agriculture

The deployment of THAAD in the county not only triggered concern over negative effects of the radiation on local residents’ health, but also on the quality of Chamoe, the most important agricultural product of Sengju.

It is estimated that around 90% farmers in Seongju county live on planting Chameo and 85% Chameos sold in South Korea are from Seongjue, while it’s also exported to Malaysia, Japan and Hong Kong.

“Many people in Seongju are now afraid that the Chamoe might be affected by the radiation of the THAAD system, and some people do not eat it now for health reasons,” said an owner of a pizza restaurant in Seongju.

Chamoe, typically about 15 cm long and slightly over 1 pound in weight, is a type of melon primarily grown in Korea. Planted in plastic greenhouses, the Chamoe field in Seongju is around 30 minutes’ walk from the county’s city office.

While most Chamoes are still growing in the greenhouses, lots of them can be seen being abandoned outside the greenhouses, which remain unsalable.

A local farmer told the sino-us.com that the reason that they had to abandon the Chamoes is due to the extreme hot weather and the sudden arrival of the rainy season which make Chamoes easily go bad, instead of the THAAD radiation.

The large amount of unsalable Chamoes has also caused a decline in the price which the farmer said is only about 10% of the price of a harvest year.

Chamoe, the most important agricultural product of Seongju county, is planted in in plastic greenhouses. Chamoe field in Seongju is around 30 minutes’ walk from the county’s city office. While most Chamoes are still growing in the greenhouses, lots of them can be seen being abandoned outside the greenhouses, which remain unsalable. Photo: Chunmei/Sino-US.com


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