"There are no plans to redeploy THAAD on the peninsula at this time," Esper said during the Monday press conference. South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong Doo was also present at the conference.
The US' decision to not redeploy THAAD in South Korea at this time may be related to the fact that the US and South Korean militaries are considering "scaling back command" due to concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus, Reuters reported, citing the defense ministries of the two countries.
"I'm sure that we will remain fully ready to deal with any threats that we will face together," Esper said during the conference, with his South Korean counterpart standing next to him.
There are currently almost 80,000 cases of the novel coronavirus worldwide, more than 77,000 of which are in mainland China. There are currently 833 cases of the deadly virus in South Korea.
The US in 2017 began deploying the anti-missile system in South Korea in response to North Korea conducting four ballistic missile tests.
In a statement at the time, US President Donald Trump said that the US was taking action to “enhance our [the United States'] ability to deter and defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles using the full range of United States military capabilities."
There has been a great deal of opposition to THAAD in South Korea, especially in Seongju county, located around 130 miles from the capital city of Seoul, where the US military installed the missile defense system. According to a 2017 NPR report, thousands of South Koreans traveled to Seongju to participate in local protests against THAAD, arguing that US troops and weapons could cause conflict in the region.
Relations between China and South Korea soured after Washington's decision to deploy THAAD in South Korea, with Beijing expressing concern that the system would allow the US to detect and track missiles launched in China. According to US officials, the system can track an object "the size of a baseball from about 2,900 miles (4,600 kilometers) away."
South Korea experienced severe economic losses following the deployment of THAAD due to Beijing's concern the system could threaten its security, the Straits Times confirmed.