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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 22)

Diplomacy 06:57 October 22, 2019

Unfortunate incident
US envoy residence break-in gives mixed feelings

Seven college students belonging to an ultra-left student group have been detained for breaking into the grounds of the residence of the U.S. ambassador in central Seoul, Friday.

According to police and a video clip released by the group, the seven climbed over the wall of Habib House ― used by Ambassador Harry Harris ― using two extension ladders. Under the wall, a dozen other members helped them enter the compound by keeping police officers away from the ladders.

Fortunately, Harris and his wife were not there at the time. Harris, who was attending a reception hosted by President Moon Jae-in at Cheong Wa Dae for diplomatic mission representatives in Seoul, left the reception early upon hearing the news.

The student group is infamous for its pro-North Korean, anti-American activities. It has often held rallies near the U.S. Embassy, the ambassador's residence and U.S. military bases. On Friday, the protesters carried signs calling for Harris to leave Korea and denouncing U.S. pressure on South Korea to increase its financial contribution for the stationing of American troops here.

We have mixed feelings about this incident. Of course, their act was illegal and shameful. The break-in should be punished in accordance with the law, and appropriate measures should be taken immediately to prevent such an incident from happening again.

What is equally important is to carry out a thorough investigation into how the protesters were able to enter the ambassador's residence so easily. The U.S. Embassy noted with strong concern that it was the second illegal entry into the ambassador's residential compound in 14 months. In September last year, a 43-year-old Korean Chinese woman was detained for breaking into the residence at night. Seoul should be blamed for its poor guarding of the residence. All possible measures must be taken to provide better protection for not only the U.S. ambassador's residence, but also all diplomatic missions from other countries.

The latest case particularly reminds us of the knife attack on then U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert on March 5, 2015. An anti-American activist assailed Lippert at a breakfast function in a Seoul hotel. He suffered cuts to his face and hand, and had to have over 80 stitches. The activist demanded the scrapping of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, claiming they were a source of tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Most South Koreans may not sympathize with the leftist activists, including those who illegally entered the U.S. ambassador's residence Friday. But it is a clear fact that the U.S. demands for South Korea to pay more for the United States Forces Korea have raised questions here about the meaning of the alliance.

Intended or not, the intrusion incident will increase public attention on the upcoming military cost-sharing talks between Seoul and Washington. With the second round of negotiations on how much Seoul should pay next year scheduled for Tuesday to Thursday in Hawaii, there are media reports that the U.S. will demand a five-fold increase in South Korea's payment. Ambassador Harris recently said in an interview with a South Korean conservative daily that Seoul, as the world's 12th-largest economy, should take on a larger share, repeating U.S. President Donald Trump's claims.

Well, it is not only the detained student activists who think the U.S. demands are excessive.

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