SEOUL, March 2 (Xinhua) -- South Korea has launched the process of providing land to the U.S. forces stationed here to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korean soil, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck told a regular press briefing that the land provision procedure was launched according to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the two allies.
Lotte Group, South Korea's fifth-largest family-controlled conglomerate, inked a contract with the Defense Ministry of South Korea on Tuesday to exchange its golf course in the country's southeast region for military land near Seoul.
Seoul and Washington abruptly announced a plan in July last year to deploy one THAAD battery in South Korea by the end of this year.
The THAAD site was changed in September into the Lotte-owned golf course, just a day after the rejection of a warrant to arrest Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin over alleged corruption.
The land swap deal between Lotte and the South Korean military is expected to speed up the remaining process of the THAAD deployment, such as the land provision, the basic designing of the base and the evaluation of environmental effects.
The spokesman said the final conclusion will be reached while reviewing the remaining procedures such as the environmental evaluation and other procedures relevant to the land provision.
Cho said the THAAD deployment was decided from the perspective of the U.S.-South Korea alliance, adding that the principle of installing the THAAD battery by the end of this year will be maintained.
Local media speculations say that the THAAD deployment could be completed between May and July.
The fast push for the THAAD deployment in South Korea caused strong backlashes from residents living in the Seongju county and the Gimcheon city which borders the golf course.
The residents planned to file a lawsuit with a Seoul administrative court against Defense Minister Han Min-koo for the absence of collecting opinion from them before announcing and deciding on the U.S. missile defense system deployment.
China and Russia have strongly opposed the THAAD installation in South Korea as it breaks regional balance and damages security interests of the two countries.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing Monday that China expresses firm opposition and strong dissatisfaction with the THAAD deployment in South Korea.
China will take necessary measures to safeguard its security interest, while the United States and South Korea will have to bear all the resulting consequences, he said.