The Republic of Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, right, and Timothy Betts, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary and Senior Advisor for Security Negotiations and Agreements in the US Department of State, shake hands for the media before their meeting at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, ROK, Feb 10, 2019. (AP PHOTO/LEE JIN-MAN, POOL)
SEOUL — The Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States struck a new deal Sunday increasing the share of Seoul's contribution for the cost of the US military presence on its soil, official said, after previous rounds of failed negotiations caused worries about their decades-long alliance.
Last year, the ROK provided about US$830 million, roughly 40 percent of the cost of the deployment of 28,500 US soldiers whose presence is meant to deter aggression from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). President Donald Trump has said the ROK should pay more.
We are very pleased our consultations resulted in agreement that will strengthen transparency and deepen our cooperation and the alliance.
Timothy Betts, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, US
On Sunday, chief negotiators from the two countries signed a new cost-sharing plan, which requires the ROK to pay about 1.04 trillion won (US$924 million) in 2019, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It said the two countries reaffirmed the need for a "stable" US military deployment amid "rapidly changing situation on the Korean Peninsula." The ministry said Washington assured Seoul that it has solid security commitment for its ally and that it has no plans to readjust the size of its troops' level in the ROK.
"We realize, the United States government realizes that Korea does a lot for our alliance and peace and stability in the region," chief US negotiator Timothy Betts said in Seoul. "We are very pleased our consultations resulted in agreement that will strengthen transparency and deepen our cooperation and the alliance."
The allies had failed to reach a new cost-sharing plan during some 10 rounds of talks. A five-year 2014 deal that covered the ROK’s payment last year had expired at the end of 2018.
Some conservatives in the ROK voiced concerns over a weakening alliance with the US amid a stalemate in negotiations with the DPRK to deprive it of its nuclear weapons. They said Trump might use the failed military cost-sharing negotiations as an excuse to pull back some of US troops in the ROK, as a bargaining chip in talks with DPRK leader Kim Jong-un.
Trump told CBS' "Face the Nation" last Sunday that he has no plans to withdraw troops from the ROK. During his election campaigning, Trump suggested he could pull back troops from the ROK and Japan unless they took greater financial burdens to support US troops deployed there.
Protesters hold banners during a rally as police officers stand guard near the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, Feb 10, 2019. The ROK and the United States struck a new deal Sunday on how much Seoul should pay for the US military presence on its soil, official said. (LEE JIN-MAN / AP)
The ROK media earlier reported Trump demanded Seoul double its spending for the US military deployment before his government eventually asked for 1.13 trillion won (US$1 billion). Seoul's Foreign Ministry said the US had called for a sharp increase for ROK payment but didn't elaborate.
The US military arrived in the ROK to disarm Japan, which colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45, following its World War II defeat. Most US troops were withdrawn in 1949 but they returned the next year to fight alongside the ROK in the 1950-53 Korean War.
The ROK began paying for the US military deployment in the early 1990s, after rebuilding its war-devastated economy. The big US military presence in the ROK is a symbol of the countries' alliance, forged in blood during the war, but also a source of long-running anti-American sentiments.
Anti-US activists rallied near the Foreign Ministry building in Seoul on Sunday, chanting slogans like "No more money for US troops." No violence was reported.
HONG KONG NEWS