Fric­tions won’t jolt Us-south Korea al­liance

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIE­W - By Dong Xian­grong

It was re­ported by South Korean media that the Blue House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil de­cided on August 30 to push ac­tively for an early re­turn of the re­main­ing 26 US mil­i­tary bases in South Korea. Before the Seoul De­fense Di­a­logue kicked off on Wed­nes­day, spec­u­la­tion was run­ning high that Wash­ing­ton may not send a se­nior of­fi­cial to take part, though the US em­bassy in Seoul announced at the last minute that US Forces Korea Com­man­der Gen­eral Robert Abrams would at­tend the fo­rum.

Th­ese moves be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Seoul seem to sug­gest that the two are at odds with each other. It may be at­trib­uted to their di­ver­gences on shar­ing the cost of US mil­i­tary sta­tioned in South Korea and Seoul’s de­ci­sion to scrap the Gen­eral Se­cu­rity of Mil­i­tary In­for­ma­tion Agree­ment (GSOMIA), a mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing pact with Ja­pan. How­ever, this will not shake the Us-south Korea al­liance.

The ap­proach of US President Don­ald Trump to deal­ing with al­lies is dif­fer­ent from his pre­de­ces­sors. Pre­vi­ous US pres­i­dents formed or tweaked the US al­liance in terms of its al­lies’ strategic value and global strategic de­ploy­ment. Although Trump also has his global strategic con­sid­er­a­tions, his fo­cus is on the eco­nomic cal­cu­la­tion.

There are dif­fer­ences be­tween Seoul and Wash­ing­ton on shar­ing the US Forces Korea (USFK) costs. Of­fi­cials of the two coun­tries signed a deal in Fe­bru­ary 2019, which states South Korea would raise its con­tri­bu­tion to 1.04 tril­lion won ($863 mil­lion), a growth of 8.2 per­cent. South Korean news­pa­per

Joon­gang Ilbo said Wash­ing­ton will seek $5 bil­lion an­nual burden-shar­ing from Seoul. It would be tough for South Korea to bear.

Trump said at a fund-rais­ing event on August 9, “It was eas­ier to get a bil­lion dol­lars from South Korea than to get $114.13 from a rent-con­trolled apart­ment in Brook­lyn.” His tone is a huge blow to the self-es­teem of South Kore­ans, whose na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ments are strong.

Us-south Korea-ja­pan re­la­tion­ship is not a com­plete tri­an­gu­lar al­liance. The US is an ally of both North­east Asian coun­tries, while South Korea doesn’t have solid ties with Ja­pan. The US in­tends to form sta­ble tri­an­gu­lar relations among the three coun­tries, but it has not been re­al­ized so far. The US hopes all its al­lies, not only Ja­pan and South Korea, in the Asia-pa­cific, can have a sta­ble and friendly re­la­tion­ship, con­tribut­ing to a sta­ble al­liance net­work.

At the out­set of the fresh round of Seoul-tokyo spats, Seoul did not have many cards to deal with the eco­nomic chal­lenges posed by Tokyo. Some eco­nomic sanc­tions im­posed by Ja­pan on South Korea seem to be ag­gres­sive. For ex­am­ple, Ja­pan has im­posed re­stric­tions on ex­ports of three chem­i­cals to South Korea, which are used for the lat­ter’s pil­lar semi­con­duc­tor industry. Ja­pan of­fi­cially re­moved South Korea from its “white list” on August 28, which means South Korea will no longer en­joy min­i­mum trade re­stric­tions on sen­si­tive goods in­clud­ing elec­tronic com­po­nents.

In this con­text, South Korea has been divided over main­tain­ing shar­ing of mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence with such a hos­tile coun­try which has also in­vaded South Korea before.

President Moon Jae-in and his pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ment gen­er­ally have adopted a tough at­ti­tude to­ward Ja­pan. There­fore, they made a de­ci­sion to scrap the GSOMIA, which was signed by South Korean con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment of Park Geun-hye, un­der US in­flu­ence.

The US valued the in­tel­li­gence­shar­ing pact and con­stantly ex­pressed “re­gret” and “dis­ap­point­ment” over South Korea’s de­ter­mi­na­tion. The GSOMIA al­lowed in­for­ma­tion shar­ing among Ja­pan, South Korea and the US in re­gard on North Korea’s ac­tiv­i­ties in the North­east Asia. The US is dis­mayed about the demise of the GSOMIA, wor­ry­ing the se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion in the re­gion would be weak­ened.

South Korea’s push for re­turn of 26 USFK bases has sparked spec­u­la­tion of a rift be­tween the US and South Korea. How­ever, re­duc­ing the num­ber of USFK bases would be the gen­eral ten­dency. The US has opened its largest over­seas mil­i­tary base in Pyeong­taek, a city 35 kilo­me­ters south of Seoul, which can ac­com­mo­date a considerab­le num­ber of USFK. Seeking for early re­turn of the re­main­ing USFK bases is con­sis­tent with the re­lo­ca­tion of US bases to Camp Humphreys in Pyeong­taek.

In US Asia-pa­cific strat­egy, although not as im­por­tant as Us-ja­pan al­liance, Us-south Korea al­liance is in­dis­pens­able. As a piv­otal an­chor in US Asia-pa­cific strat­egy, South Korea would not be aban­doned by the US. Seoul-wash­ing­ton al­liance has still been sta­ble, despite some fric­tions. The author is a pro­fes­sor at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Strat­egy, Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences. opin­[email protected] glob­al­times.com.cn

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu RUI/GT

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