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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 14)

All News 06:59 April 14, 2020

Deal-breaking Trump
Defense cost-sharing talks face prolonged deadlock

The already-tense defense cost-sharing talks between Seoul and Washington are expected to face a prolonged deadlock after U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly rejected South Korea's proposed payment increase of 13 percent. The rejection will certainly have negative implications on the bilateral alliance.

There are concerns that the failure to reach a cost-sharing deal could undermine the allies' joint defense readiness against North Korea's potential military threats. The North has continued to test-fire short-range ballistic missiles and other strategic weapons.

The stalemate was mainly attributed to Trump's refusal to compromise over his excessive demand that Seoul should pay $5 billion this year for the upkeep of 28,500 U.S. troops stationed here. The sum is more than five times the $900 billion paid last year by Seoul. It is irrational for President Trump to describe Korea as a "free rider" in the defense alliance in an attempt to extort as much money as possible from Seoul.

According to a Reuters report last week, Trump turned down the Korean government's proposed double-digit increase from last year's cost-sharing deal. The rejection was made after consultation with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. It poured cold water over an upbeat statement March 31 by South Korea's top negotiator Jeong Eun-bo that the two sides had tentatively reached a deal.

It is regrettable that Trump rejected the deal struck between negotiators of the two countries for this year's Special Measures Agreement (SMA). To the eyes of the self-centered U.S. president, Seoul's 13 percent hike proposal seems to be too low. But he should realize that it was the best offer from the Moon Jae-in administration, compared with the 8.2 percent hike in 2019 from the previous year.

But the rejection comes as no surprise, given Trump's America-centric stance which values money over alliances. He has repeatedly made excessive and unreasonable demands that Korea should pay much more for the U.S. Forces Korea. He even asked for Seoul to pick up the entire bill.

It is apparent that Trump wants a steep increase in the South's burden to show off as one of his achievements to boost his chances for re-election. But he should not have nixed the tentative deal when Seoul and Washington need to step up their cooperation not only in defense and security but also in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

For its part, the Moon administration cannot avoid criticism for being too optimistic about the deal. It should have taken a more careful approach to cope with any reaction by the unpredictable and egoistical U.S. leader.

Now Washington should give up holding hostage the salaries of about 4,000 South Korean workers on U.S. bases to force Seoul into agreeing to an unfavorable deal. These workers have been furloughed since April 1 due to the botched talks. We call on the Trump administration to drop its unwarranted demand and reach a mutually acceptable deal with Seoul as soon as possible.
(END)

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