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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 9)

All News 09:26 May 09, 2020

Unilateral and irrational
Defense cost-sharing should be mutually acceptable

Washington is again ramping up pressure on Seoul to shoulder a greater financial burden for the upkeep of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. This U.S. move is nothing new. But its unilateral and excessive demands are still a cause for concern for the host country.

President Donald Trump has renewed his pressure tactics by claiming that Seoul has agreed to pay "substantial money" for the stationing of U.S. troops in Korea. He made the remark to reporters Thursday during a White House meeting with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. He added, "We're spending all of this money. It costs us a lot of money … And if we're going to defend countries, they should also respect us by making a contribution."

What he said is wrong. South Korea has not yet reached any agreement with the U.S. on a defense cost-sharing formula. The country has continued to pay a fair share of the total costs. However, Trump was only trying to force Seoul to accept his irrational demand. So we can hardly understand why he has become undiplomatic and un-American in putting forward such a demand. How can the leader of a country make the case for a nonexistent agreement with another country?

His comment came as no surprise, though, given that he has made similar remarks before. Last week he told Reuters that Seoul agreed to pay more for the U.S. troop presence without saying how much. All this shows is that Trump is valuing U.S. financial gains over the Seoul-Washington alliance. His narrow-minded and selfish attitude will only undermine the traditionally strong ties between the countries.

More worrisome is that a senior U.S. official has asked South Korea to pay $1.3 billion a year for the upkeep of 28,500 American troops on the peninsula. He told the South's semi-official Yonhap News Agency that the U.S. request is its "final offer" and "quite reasonable." He even argued that the amount is far lower than Trump's original request of $5 billion. He also implied that Korea has done nothing while the U.S. has pared down the sum greatly. What nonsense!

Trump initially demanded that Seoul pay $5 billion this year, well over five times higher than last year's agreed payment of about $900 million. Then he recently rejected South Korea's offer to increase its contribution by 13 percent year-on-year, further stalemating the cost-sharing negotiations known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA).

It is difficult for the Moon Jae-in administration to accommodate the new U.S. request for $1.3 billion. The government should not yield to the mounting U.S. pressure which will become more intense in the run-up to the November presidential election.

We urge the Trump administration to drop its unilateral and irrational demands and seek a compromise for mutually acceptable terms in defense cost-sharing negotiations. He had better put more value on the alliance and friendly relations between Seoul and Washington. Only then can the two countries narrow their differences and reach an agreement.

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