South Korea will pay the largest share of the cost in decades for hosting US forces

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to help defend it against the North. (AP photo)

Seoul: South Korea agreed to a 13.9% increase in its contribution to the cost of hosting about 28,500 US troops for 2021, the largest annual rise in nearly two decades after US calls for more funding.

The increase will raise South Korea’s contribution this year to 1.18 trillion won (1.03 billion US dollars).

Former US President Donald Trump accused South Korea of ​​”free exploitation” of US military power and demanded that it pay up to $ 5 billion annually.

“The agreement resolved the longest vacuum ever, which lasted about a year and three months,” South Korea’s chief negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, said in a televised statement.

“It provided an opportunity to re-emphasize the importance of the coalition and the need for a stable stationing of US forces in Korea,” he added.

The State Department said the six-year special measures agreement with the United States came after lengthy negotiations and would boost South Korea’s annual contribution to the bill for the period 2022-2025 in line with the annual increase in the defense budget, which was 5.4% this year. The current situation.

The agreement replaces an arrangement that expired at the end of 2019, under which South Korea paid about $ 920 million annually.

The ministry said the two sides agreed to freeze South Korea’s contribution for the year 2020.

In the latest major increase in its contribution, South Korea in 2003 paid 17% more than the previous year, according to data from a Defense Department white paper.

Regarding the new link between the contribution to the cost of maintaining US forces and the defense budget, the ministry said the increase in the defense budget was a “reasonable and verifiable indicator” that reflects financial and security capabilities.

But Shin Beom Chul, a security expert at the Economic and Society Research Institute in Seoul, said reconciling the two issues was a “mistake” for South Korea, one of the world’s biggest defense spenders, and could lead to budgetary pressures.

About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea to help defend it against North Korea under a mutual defense treaty signed after the 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The treaty provided the basis for the stationing of US forces in South Korea, which it began paying for in the early 1990s after rebuilding its war-shattered economy.

With little progress in negotiations after the last deal ended, about half of the nearly 9,000 South Koreans serving in the US military were granted unpaid leave, prompting the two sides to scramble for an interim deal to get them back on the job.

Jeong said the agreement stipulates that in the future, workers can get their current wages in the absence of a new deal.

The trade union welcomed the agreement, saying it would help ensure stable working conditions.

Without it, the union said, thousands of other workers would have been forced to take unpaid leave the next month.

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