SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A private golf course in South Korea's southeast has been chosen as the new site for an advanced U.S. missile defense system to be deployed by the end of next year to protect against North Korean threats, Seoul's Defense Ministry said Friday.
South Korean military officials in July originally picked a nearby artillery base in the rural farming town of Seongju as the site for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD.
But Seongju residents fiercely protested the plan, expressing concern over potential health hazards they believe the system's powerful radar might cause.
The golf course owned by South Korea's Lotte business group is also within Seongju, but located farther from the town's main residential areas. However, residents of Gimcheon city, which borders the course, have protested the expected move.
The new site was selected after a month-long inspection and was approved by the defense ministers of both the United States and South Korea, Seoul's Defense Ministry said in a statement. A ministry note provided to lawmakers described the golf course as ideal because it would require less construction than two other possible sites that were on mountains.
The ministry plans to start discussions on buying the course from Lotte, which said in a statement that it will "positively consider" the proposal.
"We sincerely request the people of our country and residents in concerned areas to understand our patriotism and provide us support," the ministry said.
Ministry officials began exploring alternative sites after President Park Geun-hye promised in August to consider a new location to "lessen the anxiety" of residents in Seongju. Weeks earlier, angry protesters had pelted her prime minister with eggs and plastic bottles and blocked his bus for several hours during a visit to Seongju to explain the decision to residents.
U.S. and South Korean officials say they need the missile system to better deal with increasing North Korean military threats. After North Korea conducted its fifth and most powerful nuclear test to date earlier this month, experts raised worries that the country is moving closer toward gaining the ability to put nuclear warheads on a variety of ballistic missiles.
The plan to deploy THAAD in South Korea has angered not only North Korea but also China, which suspects that the system would allow U.S. radar to better track its missiles. Russia also opposes the deployment.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular briefing Friday that China continues to oppose the deployment.
"The United States deploying THAAD in South Korea not only does not serve the purposes it seeks, it also affects the security in the region as well as China's," Geng said. "We urge both sides to reconsider this move."
U.S. and South Korean officials say the THAAD system targets only North Korea.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.