Fore! South Korea golf course may get anti-missile battery

September 30, 2016 1:41 AM EDT

FILE PHOTO - A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. U.S. Department of Defense, Missile D

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By Ju-min Park and Hyunjoo Jin

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's military aims to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense unit on a golf course, a defense ministry official said on Friday, after it had to scrap its initial site for the battery in the face of opposition from residents.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high this year, beginning with North Korea's fourth nuclear test in January, which was followed by a satellite launch, a string of tests of various missiles, and its fifth and largest nuclear test this month.

In July, South Korea agreed with the United States that a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile unit would be deployed in the Seongju region, southeast of the capital, Seoul, to defend the country.

But residents of the melon-farming area protested over worries about the safety of the system's powerful radar and the likelihood it would be a target for North Korea, which warned of retaliation, if war broke out.

The plan to deploy the system has also angered China, which worries that the THAAD's powerful radar would compromise its security.

The new site for the missile battery would be a golf course at the high-end Lotte Skyhill Seongju Country Club, the South Korean ministry official said told Reuters, confirming media reports.

The club is owned by the Lotte Group conglomerate and had been considered as an alternative due to its high altitude and accessibility for military vehicles, the defense official said.

It was not clear how the military would acquire the property, reportedly worth about 100 billion won ($90.54 million).

"We will positively consider the deployment of THAAD at the golf course considering the grave situation regarding national security," Kim Byung-wook, an official at the club, told Reuters by phone.

He said the company had received a notice from the defense ministry about the plan on Thursday.

The United States said this week that it would speed up deployment of the system given the pace of North Korea's missile tests, and it would be stationed in South Korea "as soon as possible".

The United States and South Korea have said THAAD does not threaten China's security or target any country other than North Korea.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said deployment of the system should be stopped, and again promised unspecified countermeasures.

"The United States' deployment of THAAD in South Korea cannot resolve the relevant parties' security concerns," he told a daily news briefing.

The military analyzed three possible locations for the system and found the golf course to be the most feasible, the defense official said, as the other two would require additional engineering which would delay the deployment.

The official declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to media.

(Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin, and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)

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