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Biden will not treat allies as 'protection racket,' says adviser

All News 07:00 October 11, 2020

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will not treat U.S. allies as a source of revenue and instead honor and strengthen the partnership with South Korea and other allies, a key foreign policy adviser said in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency.

Brian McKeon, one of Biden's three-member team of foreign policy advisers, accused President Donald Trump of treating allies like a "protection racket," saying that Biden would approach the long stalled negotiations with South Korea over the cost of maintaining U.S. troops in Korea "differently."

"I could not predict the timing of any agreement," he said when asked if a Biden administration would seek to conclude the burden-sharing negotiations at an early date.

"I would say that if these negotiations are not concluded when President Biden takes office next year, we would obviously have to review what has been discussed, but we would approach those negotiations in an objective manner and not use them as a cudgel against our ally or treating the alliance in a transactional way," McKeon said in the interview Thursday.

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden (L) is seen holding a meeting with his campaign officials, including his foreign policy adviser Brian McKeon (R), in this undated photo provided by his election campaign. (Yonhap)

McKeon has spent most of his career working closely with Biden since he joined Biden's Senate office in 1985. He served as a foreign policy adviser to then Senator Biden from 1988 and 1995, and also worked as a principal deputy under secretary for policy at the Department of Defense under former President Barack Obama.

His remarks come amid a deadlock in the burden-sharing negotiations between Seoul and Washington.

Seoul has offered to increase its burden sharing by up to 13 percent from the US$870 million it paid under last year's agreement.

Washington, on the other hand, is said to be demanding a 50 percent spike to $1.3 billion, while earlier reports have suggested U.S. President Donald Trump may have demanded as much as $5 billion a year from South Korea, also threatening to pull out or reduce U.S. troops in South Korea.

McKeon said Trump simply does not understand the Korea-U.S. alliance and what it is built on.

"He continually criticized the alliance, called Seoul a free rider, and demanded, as you said, a large increase in burden sharing. And it seems to us that he just doesn't really understand how these alliances work and the sacrifice that our soldiers made and South Korean soldiers made during the (Korean) war or our country's history or strong people-to-people ties," he said.

Instead, Trump treats U.S. allies as a source of revenue, McKeon said.

"President Trump has treated our alliances in both Europe and Asia ... like they are a protection racket, rather than partnership between two or more countries that are bound by a treaty and long shared history. So we would certainly approach the negotiations differently," McKeon said.

On the possibility of a U.S. troop reduction in South Korea, McKeon doubted there would be any significant reduction of U.S. troops under a Biden administration but noted any change would depend on the outcome of its future assessment of the U.S. global force posture.

Still, Biden, if elected, would quickly reassure U.S. allies of his commitment to improving their alliances, McKeon said.

"One of the things he intends to do is restore and strengthen our alliances," he said. "He frequently says when he takes office, he will immediately get on the phone with some of our key allies in Europe and Asia, and centrally say, 'America is back, and we have your back.'"

In the file photo taken Dec. 8, 2013, then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden looks at North Korea through binoculars during his visit to a guard post near the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

McKeon said Biden believes alliances are mutually beneficial.

"The reason Biden believes in alliances is because he thinks they make us and allies stronger. They are what people in the Pentagon would like to say our force multiplier. And Korea is one of our best allies," he told Yonhap.

McKeon said a Biden administration would also work with its allies, as well as China, in an objective and "coordinated" manner to denuclearize North Korea.

"We would undertake, you know the Biden administration, a principled approach to the North Korea challenge, and work in a close coordinated campaign with our treaty allies in Japan and Korea, as well as working with the People's Republic of China toward what we think is a common goal that everyone shares -- denuclearized North Korea and ensuring peace and prosperity in the region," he said.

Biden would also promote cooperation between U.S. allies, such as South Korea and Japan.

The relationship between Seoul and Tokyo is currently at a record low after Japan imposed trade restrictions on South Korea in a row over wartime forced labor last year, prompting Seoul to threaten to end a military intelligence sharing arrangement between the two countries.

"It is regrettable that the relationship has deteriorated," McKeon said of Seoul-Tokyo ties.

"We think it is important to our security and the security of the region, particularly with regard to the DPRK nuclear issue and as we work together to end the pandemic and work toward post-COVID economic recovery," he said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

With regard to the U.S. push for a NATO-like multilateral structure in the Indo-Pacific region, known as the Quad, McKeon said a Biden administration would support a "rules-based order" in the region but hinted at a possible change in its strategy.

"You could look for several elements in a Biden administration's approach ... which is restoring and strengthening our core alliances, whether that's with Korea or Japan or Australia, as well (as) the Philippines and Thailand, investing in our political and security relationships, as was done in the Obama-Biden administration," McKeon said.

"And the key element of our policy would be promoting a rules-based order and stability in the region, which no country, including China, can threaten their neighbors with impunity."


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