Politics

Trump signals he wants South Korea to pay more for US military presence there

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Key Points
  • President Donald Trump signaled that he wants South Korea to pay more than what Seoul is already paying for U.S. military presence there. 
  • Seoul and Washington are currently negotiating a new Special Measures Agreement, a mechanism specifying how both countries share the costs of stationing some 28,500 American troops in South Korea as a deterrent to North Korea. 
  • In the last one-year, cost-sharing agreement, Seoul agreed to pay roughly $900 million and in negotiations for the new one, they had offered a 13% increase on that number, Reuters reported earlier this month.
President Donald Trump speaks during a daily briefing of the coronavirus task force at the White House April 20, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

President Donald Trump signaled that he wants South Korea to pay more than what it's already paying for U.S. military presence there. 

Seoul and Washington are currently negotiating a new agreement specifying how both countries share the costs of some 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea — as a deterrent to North Korea's provocations in the region. 

Those cost-sharing agreements, also referred to as the Korea Special Measures Agreement, have existed since 1991 and the latest one expired at the end of 2019. 

"We are negotiating, for President Moon (Jae-in), and for South Korea, to help us monetarily," Trump said in response to a reporter's question during Monday's press briefing by the coronavirus task force.

The Trump administration sees the U.S.-South Korea alliance, born out of the Korean War in the 1950s, as a cornerstone for maintaining stability and peace in the Korean peninsula as well as in the broader Indo-Pacific region. However, Washington has said Seoul needs to contribute more to the cost-sharing defense pact. In fact, the United States has told other allies around the world to step up their contributions to existing partnerships as well. 

...the relationship (with South Korea) is great, but it's just not a fair relationship.
Donald Trump
U.S. President

"South Korea is a very wealthy nation. They make our television sets, they make ships, they make everything. And, I give them great credit. We've been defending them for many, many decades," Trump said. 

"I've gone to them in the past. Last year I went to them, now they're paying a billion dollars a year, and I went to them again and I said, 'Look I'll be back because that's just a fraction,'" he added. "Again, the relationship is great, but it's just not a fair relationship."

In the previous one-year agreement on cost-sharing, Seoul agreed to pay roughly $900 million, according to Reuters. In the current negotiations for a new agreement, South Korea reportedly offered a 13% increase on that number, the news agency said earlier this month. Still, that amount fell short of the $5 billion floated by the U.S. that South Korea considered a "non-starter" in the negotiations, Reuters said.

"They've offered us a certain amount of money and I've rejected it," Trump said at Monday's press briefing, without specifying any amount. "We have to be treated equitably and fairly, and so that's where it is right now. And what's going to happen, I can't tell you. But, we'll find out fairly soon."

Eurasia Group analysts said they expect the standoff between the U.S. and South Korea to continue for now as both sides are unwilling to give much ground. 

Trump's comments came only minutes before conflicting media reports about the deteriorating health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Those reports triggered declines in South Korean assets.