News that US and South Korea are considering downsizing combined military drills – ostensibly due to coronavirus concerns – comes as the Pentagon is trying to twist Seoul’s arm into paying billions for upkeep of US garrisons.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper made a comment about coronavirus figuring into considerations about the drills at the press conference following a meeting at the Pentagon with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo.
Looming over the possible downsizing, however, is the unresolved issue of funding for US troops in South Korea. Seoul currently contributes just under $1 billion for upkeep of US troops, which have been garrisoned on South Korean soil since the 1953 armistice. At President Donald Trump’s insistence, the Pentagon has pushed for that amount to increase, reportedly to around $5 billion – a deal Seoul is apparently finding hard to swallow.
ROK defense minister says still “some difference in position” between Seoul and Washington on military support. Currently South Korea pays around $1b to support US forces in Korea; Trump admin reportedly wants it around $5b. Negotiation currently at “standstill.”
— Aaron Mehta (@AaronMehta) February 24, 2020
None of that is to say that coronavirus is not a legitimate concern for the Pentagon. South Korea is second in the world after China for the number of COVID-19 infections – 800 confirmed cases and eight deaths, as of Monday. At least a dozen members of the military have been diagnosed. The Korean defense ministry even shut down its briefing room on Tuesday, after a local news camera operator was admitted to a hospital with symptoms.
Source: RT NEWS