On Sunday, national security adviser General H.R. McMaster seemingly contradicted President Trump by saying the United States would pay for the deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system to South Korea. However, he qualified that statement by expressly stating he was not contradicting the president, and the deal with South Korea may yet be revised.
“What I told our South Korean counterpart is until any renegotiation, that the deals in place, we’ll adhere to our word,” McMaster said on Fox News Sunday, just a few days after Trump suggested Seoul should pay for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system currently being installed in South Korea.
The price tag for THAAD is roughly one billion dollars, a figure President Trump quoted in an interview last week.
“It’s a billion-dollar system. It’s phenomenal. It’s the most incredible equipment you’ve ever seen – shoots missiles right out of the sky,” Trump said of THAAD. “And it protects them and I want to protect them. We’re going to protect them. But they should pay for that, and they understand that.”
South Korean officials responded to Trump’s remarks by insisting the U.S. remained committed to paying for the installation.
McMaster spoke with the chief of South Korea’s National Security Office, Kim Kwan-jin, on Sunday to “reconfirm what has already been agreed.” He also praised the American relationship with South Korea as “the most solid alliance” and pledged that “the U.S. will be with the Republic of Korea 100 percent.”
Reports of this conversation sparked many headlines about McMaster contradicting or overriding Trump. However, in his Fox News Sunday appearance, McMaster insisted, “the last thing I would ever do is contradict the President of the United States.”
“That’s not what it was,” he said of the phone call to his opposite in South Korea. “What the President has asked us to do, is to look across all of our alliances and to have appropriate burden sharing-responsibility sharing. We’re looking at that with our great ally South Korea, we’re looking at that with NATO.”
About 300 protesters met the two U.S. Army trucks carrying THAAD components to the deployment site in Seonjgu, South Korea, on Sunday, blocking the road and chanting, “Don’t lie to us! Go back to your country!” Some 800 police officers were dispatched to protect the installation site. Two local residents were reportedly injured in clashes with the police.
The protesters were worried that North Korea would target their village because the THAAD system is based there. Some South Koreans are also concerned about China’s vehement opposition to the system deployment, which has resulted in some Chinese boycotts of South Korean businesses.
The South China Morning Post on Monday reported that South Korean resorts are having an unusually tough May Day holiday season, with Chinese tourism down 40 percent overall.