US Indo-Pacific Strategy putting pressure on Seoul
The Washington-led Indo-Pacific strategy is emerging as another major burden in South Korea’s ongoing defense cost-sharing negotiations with the United States.
So far, the key focus of negotiations has been on the upkeep of the 28,500 U.S. Forces Korea personnel stationed here. But Washington is moving to step up pressure on Seoul, urging the latter to pay more for not just the maintenance of the USFK, but also regional security under the Indo-Pacific initiative.
The strategy is centered on enhancing the trilateral security partnership among South Korea, Japan and the U.S. against the quasi-alliance of China, Russia and North Korea.
The existence of the USFK is mainly due to security threats from Pyongyang, as the two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice.
But Russia and China also pose de facto security threats to South Korea, with air forces from the two countries intruding into the South’s air defense identification zone recently.
The latest in a series of similar air threats came Tuesday when six Russian military jets violated the Korea Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) above South Korea’s easternmost Dokdo and Ulleung Island in the East Sea.
Experts argue that the move was an apparent show of force against the Indo-Pacific drive, and Washington will likely demand Seoul pay more to enhance security readiness against such threats during the defense talks.
“Russia may have engaged in such a military act to display its power against the waning U.S.-led trilateral security alliance in Northeast Asia,” said Park Won-gon, a professor of international studies at Handong Global University.
“Washington, for its part, will also likely shift more of the defense cost-sharing to Seoul by citing such incidents, and underline that Seoul should play a more active part in addressing the growing security uncertainty in the region,” he said. “I was told that the U.S. government made a similar claim during the 10th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) negotiations last year,” he said.
Under the 10th SMA, which was signed this February, Seoul agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won ($886 million) annually, up 8.2 percent from the year before, for this year’s defense cost sharing.
But Washington is seeking to shift more of the costs to Seoul by a huge margin during the 11th SMA negotiations to determine the defense cost-sharing between the allies next year.
Nothing official has been unveiled over how much the U.S. asked South Korea to pay, but it is rumored that the figure is around $5 billion.
The U.S. State Department said in a recent statement that U.S. President Donald Trump “has been clear that South Korea can and should contribute more of its fair share.”
Seoul’s position is that the figure is not reasonable enough for the government to accept, and it will do its best to sign a reasonable and fair contract during the 11th SMA.