mattis in south korea
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (right) arrives at Osan Air Base in Osan, South Korea, Feb. 2, 2017. REUTERS

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called out Kim Jong Un’s North Korea for its acts of provocation, saying the only reason for the United States to deploy the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea is to counter Pyongyang’s threats.

“THAAD is for defense of our allies' people, of our troops, who are committed to their defense and were it not for the provocative behavior of North Korea we would have no need for THAAD out here,” Mattis reportedly said during his first official trip overseas, as he referred to the possible deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system (THAAD).

Mattis also attempted to allay fears regarding THAAD in South Korea by saying “there is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea,” as CNN reported.

The comment appears to be made in light of China’s objection to the anti-missile system on grounds that it may destabilize the regional security balance. China fears that the planned deployment may be an attempt by the U.S. to extend its military network towards the South China Sea, a highly contested part of the region.

“There’s only one reason we even have this under discussion right now and that is North Korea's activities,” CNN quoted the retired general as saying. Mattis also said he will use his trip to discuss new defensive steps to deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

Kim Jong Un's regime carried out its last ballistic missile test on Oct. 20, soon after U.S. and ally South Korea agreed to push further military and diplomatic measures to counter the Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities.

While Mattis’ visit comes at a time when the North has been relatively quiet on the nuclear front, experts believe that the calm may be short-lived.

“They have a wonderful tradition of greeting every new U.S. President with a bit of fireworks, sometimes a nuclear test, sometimes ICBM launch and they’re not going to break this tradition,” said Andrei Lankov, a Korean studies professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University, CNN reported.