Korean Village's Message To THAAD Missile Defense System: 'Go Away' : Parallels From a golf course in South Korea, the U.S. can now shoot down North Korean missiles. But residents don't want a missile defense system in their backyard — and neither does China.

Korean Village's Message To THAAD Missile Defense System: 'Go Away'

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The U.S. military announced this week that its new missile defense system is up and running in South Korea. It's designed to shoot down North Korean missiles. But as NPR's Lauren Frayer reports, some South Koreans are opposed to it. And so is China.

LAUREN FRAYER: In South Korea's rural Seongju province next to a river flowing from lush green hills, 64-year-old Lim Sun-bun tills her land.

LIM SUN-BUN: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: Onions, garlic, potatoes and peppers. This past winter, she started hearing U.S. helicopters overhead.

LIM: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: "They fly low, and it's scary," she says. "No one asked us if we want to host this U.S. base. I'm worried about contamination of this river, our livelihood."

The helicopters are airlifting equipment to a repurposed golf course where the U.S. military is installing THAAD. That's the acronym for a new missile defense system in the hills behind Lim's village. Declared operational this week, it's designed to shoot down North Korean missiles. But local people say, not in my backyard.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Korean).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: Protesters gather to watch local children perform what's billed as an anti-THAAD dance in the village square to a song about resisting imperialist forces.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Korean).

FRAYER: Thousands have traveled here from all over South Korea, people like Choi Sung-hee, who wants dialogue, not a military standoff with North Korea. She thinks the U.S. military presence here could actually put South Koreans in danger.

CHOI SUNG-HEE: It's not only this regional issue. It's about peace, and it's a how we Koreans that stop the war and then the future weapons together.

FRAYER: It was the previous conservative president, Park Geun-hye, who agreed to host that after a nuclear test by North Korea. But now Park is on trial for corruption, and there's an election next week to replace her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Korean).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Speaking Korean).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Korean).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: In TV debates, frontrunner Moon Jae-in has said he wants to rethink THAAD and objects to how the U.S. appears to have rushed its installation before the election. China also objects to more U.S. weaponry here and has called for its citizens to boycott South Korean products. In a touristy shopping district of Seoul, cosmetics vendors yell out what's on sale in Mandarin Chinese.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Mandarin).

FRAYER: Chinese tourists are their biggest clients. But a store manager, Cho Ah-jin, says...

CHO AH-JIN: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: "THAAD is hurting our sales here and in China," she says. There's a boycott of Korean cosmetics, and Chinese tourists have stopped coming. Tourist arrivals from China dropped by nearly half this past March compared to the previous year. Lee Jin-kyung worked for a Korean cosmetics company in China until earlier this year.

LEE JIN-KYUNG: They boycott. No more Korean working there right now, so I come back to Korea (laughter) as well.

FRAYER: Banks in Seoul have started to offer special loans to businesses hurt by the Chinese boycott. As that boycott continues, whoever is elected president here next week may find THAAD at the top of his or her agenda. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Seoul.

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