(Yonhap Interview) Lawmaker urges caution on S.Korea-U.S. troop cost-sharing issue

The chief of South Korea's parliamentary committee on defense urged South Korea and the United States on Monday to approach cautiously the issue of cost-sharing for U.S. troop presence here, warning that a mishandling would undermine the six-decade long bilateral alliance.

"The Donald Trump government is likely to demand Seoul pay more for the upkeep of U.S. soldiers here. It should be noted that any sharp upward revision to the costs could not only drive up Seoul's financial burden but shake the bilateral alliance from the root," Rep. Kim Young-woo from the ruling Saenuri Party, who heads the National Defense Committee, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

During his presidential campaign, Trump argued South Korea should pay a fair share of the cost for 28,500 American troops stationed in the country to deter North Korean aggression, even warning that the U.S. could pull out unless Seoul agrees to pay more.

Seoul currently pays about half of the costs, estimated at about US$900 million a year.

In its analysis report on the Trump government that begins on Jan. 20, the defense ministry said, "the government will stress the significant role of U.S. troops as a strong deterrent against North Korean threats on the Korean Peninsula and the Asia-Pacific region."

The ratio of South Korea's costs for U.S. troops to its gross domestic product is 0.068 percent, higher than the ratios 0.064 percent for Japan and 0.016 percent for Germany, the report said.

The 70-year-old real-estate mogul even suggested allowing South Korea and Japan to develop their own nuclear weapons for self-defense so as to reduce U.S. security burdens. He viewed U.S. security commitments to its allies as a cumbersome burden sucking up taxpayer dollars, something that the country should abandon if they doesn't make economic sense.

Trump's suggestion has fueled calls here for nuclear weapons development as North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth nuclear tests in January and September, following three previous detonations in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

As for the possibility of Seoul's developing its own nuclear weapons for self defense, Kim said, "Any efforts (by Seoul) to go nuclear will ruin the alliance with Washington and put the country's economy heavily dependent on exports at risk (due to possible sanctions by the international community)."

Trump, however, reversed his earlier stance toward nuclear armament by allies four days after his surprise victory over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Trump denied on Sunday he ever suggested more countries should acquire nuclear weapons, disavowing what has been a major source of criticism of his foreign policy views.

Given Trump's "stable and balanced" remarks after being elected as president, there do not seem to be any big drastic changes coming in U.S. foreign policy, Kim said.

But the lawmaker remained cautious, saying it is "too early to predict" his policies towards Asian allies.

The lawmaker finally advised the government to stick with the current defense lineup and policies due to the continuing and growing threats from the communist regime.

His view was, meanwhile, echoed by the defense ministry report, which said all defense-related deals and polices should be pushed forward as planned.

"The allies will push forward the planned deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea by 2017 and continue consultations for permanent deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the divided peninsula as a strong deterrent against North Korean threats," the report said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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