WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday that the proposed placement of a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea is "going to happen" despite Chinese opposition.
Washington and Seoul began talks last month on deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system to combat the threat of North Korean missiles, following a recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch by Pyongyang.
Carter was speaking Friday on U.S. defense policy toward the Asia-Pacific ahead of a trip to India and the Philippines. He was asked if the THAAD deployment was going to happen.
"It's going to happen," Carter told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "No, it's a necessary thing. It's between us and the South Koreans. It's part of protecting our own forces on the Korean Peninsula and protecting South Korea. It has nothing to do with the Chinese."
Carter added that he hoped China would work more effectively with North Korea to head off the missile threat.
"We need to defend our own people. We need to defend our own allies, and we're going to do that," Carter said in his remarks, which were webcast.
Both China and Russia oppose the deployment of the THAAD system on South Korean soil. China has expressed concern that it would allow U.S. radar to penetrate in Chinese territory. Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated that concern when he met last week with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Washington.
The U.S. says the system is designed purely to counter the threat of North Korean missiles and would not undermine China's strategic deterrence.
North Korea said Saturday that it had successfully conducted an engine test of a new intercontinental ballistic rocket it claims will strengthen its ability to stage nuclear strikes on the United States. But South Korean officials still say North Korea doesn't yet have a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile, let alone the ability to arm it with a nuclear warhead.
The differences over THAAD are a continuing sore point between Washington and Beijing despite a growing convergence in their approaches toward North Korea, a traditional ally of China. Beijing in February agreed to the toughest U.N. sanctions yet to punish the North for its weapons development, and has vowed to implement them fully.