South Korea refutes Trump’s call to pay for joint military drills
SEOUL – The US needs to better understand that joint military exercises between South Korea and the US are for mutual interests, a South Korean official said Monday, refuting US President Donald Trump’s calls on Seoul to pay for the military drills.
“It is true that the joint military exercises are helpful for (South Korea’s) security, but the joint military exercises are not benefitting South Korea unilaterally and they are rather mutually beneficial for both countries,” the official from the Foreign Ministry said on condition of anonymity.
It is “customary” for countries participating in joint military exercises to pay their own share of costs for the drills, according to the official.
His remarks came after Trump renewed pressure on South Korea to pay a bigger share of the US’ defense costs, questioning why the US is “subsidizing” its allies’ military.
“We have a tremendous trade deficit with you, and we’re defending you and we’re subsidizing your military with a massive amount of money. I said it to South Korea,” Trump said at a recent press conference in New York, citing the US troops’ stationing in South Korea. “These are very wealthy countries. I said, why aren’t you reimbursing us for our costs?”
At the heart of Trump’s belief that the US is shouldering the costs of defending its allies appears to be South Korea-US joint military drills, which he suspended following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June.
“If I told you how much those (military) games cost, and frankly, I told South Korea, you should be paying for these games. We pay for them,” he said.
The allies are currently negotiating over how to shoulder the financial burden for the maintenance of some 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea, with Washington pushing Seoul to dramatically increase its share of the costs by adding a new category — operational support costs.
Since 1991, South Korea and the US have held talks to draw up a “special-measures” agreement on how the allies share the cost of stationing US Forces Korea here in three sectors — payroll, construction and logistics — to support its stable presence against North Korea’s military threats.
The operational support category suggested by the US is believed to include elements such as the costs of the deployment of the US’ strategic assets here. South Korea has rejected the creation of the new category.
Seoul is paying around 960 billion won ($864 million) this year under the current agreement, which is set to expire this year.
Seoul and Washington began a new round of negotiations in March to reach the new agreement.
They have held a total of seven meetings, but the two countries still remain “far apart” on the total amount of money South Korea should pay to support the stationing of the US troops here, the official said.
“South Korea and the US plan to focus our efforts on adjusting differences in our stances based on a shared understanding that there should be no absence of sharing costs for the stable stationing of the US Forces Korea,” the official said, adding they hope to reach an agreement within the year.
“Our stance remains firm that the substance of the agreement cannot be sacrificed despite a lack of time.”
Officials from South Korea and the US are set to hold their eighth meeting in Seoul later this month.
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