US Indo-Pa­cific Strat­egy putting pres­sure on Seoul

The Korea Times - - NATIONAL - By Lee Min-hyung mh­[email protected]­re­atimes.co.kr

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.

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