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‘Very Unpopular’: South Korea to Pay $923 Mln for US Forces Korea in 2019

© AFP 2022 / CHOI JAE-KUUnited States Forces Korea (USFK) soldiers line-up during a display of military equipment at Yongsan US military base in Seoul. (File)
United States Forces Korea (USFK) soldiers line-up during a display of military equipment at Yongsan US military base in Seoul. (File) - Sputnik International
South Korea has agreed to pay the US almost $100 million more than they did last year to defray expenses associated with stationing 28,500 troops of US Forces Korea on the peninsula.

Under a new cost-sharing agreement signed by South Korean and American negotiators on Sunday, Seoul will pay approximately $923 million in 2019, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement cited by the Associated Press.

Seoul sent $830 million to Washington in 2018.

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The agreement has yet to be ratified by South Korean lawmakers, which is a necessary step before the deal's terms go into effect, the BBC reported. The deal expires in one year. Past agreements lasted five years, Reuters notes, and the South Korean side was hoping to extend the 2019 deal at least three years.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the "very long" process of negotiating was "ultimately a very successful" one, adding that the response to the deal from other South Koreans had been "positive so far," Reuters reports.

​Scholars took exception with the notion that the deal is being received with applause in South Korea. "It's obviously very unpopular" in South Korea, says professor Tim Beal of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

"You can pick that up in [South Korean] media from the right-wing press to the liberal press. They don't like being screwed, but that's what is happening," Beal told Loud & Clear on Radio Sputnik Monday.

The approximately 8 percent increase in payments by South Korea to the United States is likely to check one of the boxes on US President Donald Trump's ‘to do' list.

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Trump tweeted in 2014 that South Korea was "absolutely killing us on trade deals," noting that "their surplus vs U.S. is massive — and we pay for their protection. WHO NEGOTIATES?"

Timothy Betts, the US State Department plenipotentiary who was present to sign the agreement on the United States' behalf, said the money was a small but important part of the relationship between the two countries. He added that Washington "realizes that South Korea does a lot for our alliance and for peace and stability in this region," as quoted by Reuters.

The Reuters report also notes that 70 percent of funds contributed by Seoul go toward salaries for approximately 8,700 South Korean workers who provide support services for the US military.

Other analysts observe that Seoul is effectively paying for a military deterrent by paying part of the costs of US Forces Korea — and that it is actually cheaper than it would be to provide a similar deterrent in the form of a larger South Korean defense budget.

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"South Korea has to think about the cost involved in keeping the deterrence at the level they would like, while the threat is clearly present," James Kim, international relations expert at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, told Sputnik Monday.

"If the cost of increasing the defence spending to match whatever firepower the US forces were able to provide on the Korean Peninsula is larger than the increase [in cost-sharing], it makes no mathematical sense for South Korea to not contribute more to the cost-sharing agreement," Kim said.
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