South Korea and the US yesterday struck a deal that increases Seoul’s contribution for the cost of the US military presence on its soil, overcoming previous failed negotiations that caused worries about their decades-long alliance.
South Korea last year provided about US$830 million, covering about 40 percent of the cost of the deployment of 28,500 US soldiers, whose presence is meant to deter aggression from North Korea. US President Donald Trump has pushed for South Korea to pay more.
Chief negotiators from the two countries signed a new cost-sharing plan, which requires Seoul to pay about 1.04 trillion won (US$889 million) this year, the South Koeran Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The statement said the two countries reaffirmed the need for a “stable” US military deployment amid the “rapidly changing situation on the Korean Peninsula.”
The US assured South Korea that it is committed to the alliance and has no plans to adjust the number of its troops in South Korea, the ministry said.
South Korea began paying for US military deployment in the early 1990s, after rebuilding its economy from the devastation of the 1950-1953 Korean War.
The big US military presence in South Korea is a symbol of the countries’ alliance, forged in blood during the war, but also a source of long-running anti-American sentiment.
About 20 anti-US activists yesterday rallied near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul, chanting slogans such as “No more money for US troops.”
No violence was reported.
“The United States government realizes that Korea does a lot for our alliance, and peace and stability in the region,” chief US negotiator Timothy Betts said in Seoul. “We are very pleased our consultations resulted in [an] agreement that will strengthen transparency, and deepen our cooperation and the alliance.”
The deal, which involves the spending of South Korean taxpayer money, requires parliamentary approval in South Korea, but not in the US, the ministry said.
The allies had failed to reach a new cost-sharing plan during about 10 rounds of talks.
A five-year 2014 deal that covered South Korea’s payment expired last year.
Some conservatives in South Korea voiced concerns over a weakening alliance with the US at the same time as negotiations with North Korea hit a stalemate.
They said Trump might use the failed military cost-sharing negotiations as an excuse to pull back some US troops in South Korea as a bargaining chip in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
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