The United States is intensifying diplomatic pressure against South Korea to gain the upper hand in their ongoing negotiations for defense cost sharing.
On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated his discomfort over the dialogue, expressing his determination to continue pushing the South to increase its share of the cost.
“We are substantially subsidizing the militaries of many very rich countries all over the world, while at the same time these countries take total advantage of the U.S., and our taxpayers, on trade,” Trump said in a Twitter post.
He went on to say former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned recently from his post, disagreed with Trump’s idea on the defense cost talks.
“General Mattis did not see this as a problem. I do, and it is being fixed,” Trump said.
The remark came at a critical time when Seoul and Washington are at odds over the defense cost sharing dialogue. Both sides have to renew the five-year agreement, the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), which expires at the end of this year.
Seoul has been sharing the cost burden with Washington for the maintenance of the United States Forces Korea (USFK) here since 1991. They renew the agreement every two to five years.
But concerns have risen that the resignation of Mattis may bring a negative impact on Seoul’s defense cost sharing talks with Washington.
Mattis was in a position to respect U.S. allies, such as South Korea, saying the U.S. cannot protect its national interest without what Mattis called an attitude to “treat allies with respect.”
The former U.S. defense chief wrote in his resignation letter to Trump: “While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said it would continue making utmost efforts to generate a reasonable outcome in the dialogue for the good of both countries.
“The primary goal of the defense cost sharing dialogue is for the safe maintenance of USFK here. Seoul and Washington are doing their best to come to terms on the dialogue in a way to satisfy both countries,” an official from the ministry said Wednesday.
“The ministry views Mattis’ resignation will not cast a game-changing influence on the ongoing defense cost dialogue. We have not shifted any negotiating strategies due to the resignation of Mattis.”
South Korea paid 960. 2 billion won ($853.3 million) for the defense cost sharing this year.
But Trump has urged Seoul to increase the burden by a huge margin, as part of his America first policy drive since taking office last year.
Both countries have held 10 rounds of defense cost sharing dialogue since this March, but have failed to reach a consensus in the cost sharing for the USFK upkeep here.
U.S. reports say the country wants South Korea to pay at least 1.3 trillion won each year.
The latest round of dialogue took place for three days from Dec. 11. A group of ranking officials from the defense and foreign ministries met with their U.S. counterparts in Seoul, but they are known to have failed to reach an agreement due to their differences on cost sharing.
Chang Won-sam, a former ambassador to Sri Lanka, led the South Korean delegation, while the U.S. side was headed by Timothy Betts, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of State.