By Lee Haye-ah
WASHINGTON, June 24 (Yonhap) -- South Koreans expect recognition and appreciation as an equal partner of the United States, a top Seoul diplomat said Wednesday.
Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young made the remark during a virtual seminar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, citing Seoul's contributions to its 70-year-old alliance with Washington.
"It is only natural that Korea raise contributions to the alliance in concert with increased capabilities," he said. "At the same time, there is a corresponding expectation among Korean people for genuine recognition and appreciation as an equal partner of the United States."
The allies have been in tough negotiations over how much Seoul should pay for the upkeep of 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.
Studies show that Washington's demands for a significant hike in Seoul's financial contributions have soured South Korean public opinion toward the U.S.
Cho said South Korea has supported the U.S. troop presence for almost 30 years under the Special Measures Agreement, and last year, paid more than US$900 million following an 8.2 percent annual increase.
"Eight-point-two percent may seem modest until you realize that it is over four times the rate of the economic growth in Korea," he said.
"Korea is also top importer of U.S. military equipment. And we have been increasing our own defense budget by an average of 7.5 percent every year since 2017 and now spend 2.6 percent of the GDP on defense," he added. "No major U.S. ally spends at a higher figure."
Cho expressed confidence that the two sides will resolve their differences. Washington is known to be demanding $1.3 billion this year, while Seoul maintains that its highest offer is an increase of 13 percent.
The vice minister noted South Korea's continuing efforts to strengthen its military capabilities, saying a stronger military clearly benefits the country's own security and national interests.
"At the same time," he said, "it contributes directly to the national interest and strategic goals of the United States."
Cho also pointed to the importance of transferring wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul when the required conditions are met.
"The transition of wartime operation control will be an important symbol of an alliance that is adapting and evolving with its sights set on the future," he said. "This will also provide the Korean people with a sense that their country is appreciated as an equal partner of the United States."
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