A powerful X-band radar that comes with the THAAD missile defense battery set up in southwestern Korea has been positioned in a way that makes it impossible to monitor China.
One government official who took part in an environmental assessment of the battery earlier this month said Friday, "The area is surrounded by mountains and the battery was placed at the foot of a mountain to the west. That makes it impossible to monitor China."
The move aims to allay Chinese fears that the radar will be used to spy on its military movements, which have already led to a wide-ranging boycott of Korean goods and services.
A Defense Ministry official refused to be drawn, saying, "The THAAD battery has been positioned in an optimum place to detect North Korean missiles. There were no other variables considered in the location." But military sources privately admit it is possible that the Chinese backlash was taken into account.
The radar with the current software only has a maximum detection range of 600 to 800 km to track incoming missiles in their final stage of entry. But China believes that a simple switch of software could turn it to a forward-observation role, extending the detection range to 2,000 km.
"Any visit to the THAAD battery makes it very clear that it was set up for defensive purposes," a government official here said. "But China wants to use the THAAD to drive a wedge between Korea and the U.S., so it's not willing to listen to us."