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US rejects Trump accusations that S. Korea gets defense free ride

U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert on Monday dismissed accusations by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump that South Korea is paying little to keep American troops on its soil.

Without naming Trump, Lippert cited various reasons why the allegations aren't true, including the fact that South Korea shoulders 55 percent of all non-personnel costs and increases its defense spending by 3 to 5 percent annually.

"We feel very good about the resource sharing that we and the Republic of Korea do together as an alliance," the ambassador said during a meeting with members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea. "It is remarkable."

Lippert was responding to a request for comments on a "U.S. political candidate's" contentions that the country receives little from South Korea in exchange for its support.

Trump has made repeated claims that South Korea is getting a free ride on defense, saying recently that the U.S. is "constantly sending our ships, sending our planes, doing our war games" but being "reimbursed a fraction of what this is all costing." He also told The New York Times he would withdraw American troops from South Korea and Japan unless they boost their financial contributions to the upkeep of the U.S. military presence.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the divided peninsula still technically at war.

Lippert recalled his past work at senior levels in the Pentagon.


"You get a sense of the alliances and how much and who contributes what," he said. "Korea does very well in terms of its contribution."

Seoul has long shared the cost of stationing U.S. forces.

In 2014, the two countries renewed their cost-sharing agreement, known as the Special Measures Agreement, with Seoul agreeing to pay 920 billion won (US$886 million) for the upkeep of the U.S. troops in 2014, a 5.8-percent increase from the year prior.

Moreover, the American military presence on the peninsula is seen as in line with U.S. national interests in a region marked by a rising China.

"At the end of the day, I think the U.S. government feels very, very good about the resource sharing, the burden sharing we're engaged in," Lippert said.

Calling the bilateral relationship "one of the premier military alliances around the world," he added, "It works, it's effective and both sides have a lot invested in the success of this alliance."

On China, the ambassador acknowledged various challenges the U.S. faces in the bilateral relationship, including the territorial rows in the South China Sea.

But the U.S. is "quite pleased" with how China cooperated in drawing a tough sanctions resolution from the U.N. Security Council to punish North Korea for its fourth nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch in February.

"We do believe that the Chinese can and should do more on the North Korean issue," Lippert said, stressing that the priority now will be "robust implementation" of the sanctions.

Still, the Obama administration "leaves the door open" for North Koreans to return to the negotiating table as long as the focus of talks is on the North's denuclearization, he said.

On the allies' economic ties, Lippert said he believes implementation of the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, which went into effect four years ago, is going well.

There has been "significant progress" on outstanding issues related to automobiles, rules of origin and data transfer to the extent that the agreement is approaching "more of a state of implementation that looks like other free trade agreements we have with other countries."

Lippert also pointed out that Washington welcomes South Korea's interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying the regional trade pact "very much is an active issue under consideration in Washington." (Yonhap)

U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert on Monday dismissed accusations by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump that South Korea is paying little to keep American troops on its soil.

Without naming Trump, Lippert cited various reasons why the allegations aren't true, including the fact that South Korea shoulders 55 percent of all non-personnel costs and increases its defense spending by 3 to 5 percent annually.

"We feel very good about the resource sharing that we and the Republic of Korea do together as an alliance," the ambassador said during a meeting with members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea. "It is remarkable."

Lippert was responding to a request for comments on a "U.S. political candidate's" contentions that the country receives little from South Korea in exchange for its support.

Trump has made repeated claims that South Korea is getting a free ride on defense, saying recently that the U.S. is "constantly sending our ships, sending our planes, doing our war games" but being "reimbursed a fraction of what this is all costing." He also told The New York Times he would withdraw American troops from South Korea and Japan unless they boost their financial contributions to the upkeep of the U.S. military presence.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the divided peninsula still technically at war.

Lippert recalled his past work at senior levels in the Pentagon.


"You get a sense of the alliances and how much and who contributes what," he said. "Korea does very well in terms of its contribution."

Seoul has long shared the cost of stationing U.S. forces.

In 2014, the two countries renewed their cost-sharing agreement, known as the Special Measures Agreement, with Seoul agreeing to pay 920 billion won (US$886 million) for the upkeep of the U.S. troops in 2014, a 5.8-percent increase from the year prior.

Moreover, the American military presence on the peninsula is seen as in line with U.S. national interests in a region marked by a rising China.

"At the end of the day, I think the U.S. government feels very, very good about the resource sharing, the burden sharing we're engaged in," Lippert said.

Calling the bilateral relationship "one of the premier military alliances around the world," he added, "It works, it's effective and both sides have a lot invested in the success of this alliance."

On China, the ambassador acknowledged various challenges the U.S. faces in the bilateral relationship, including the territorial rows in the South China Sea.

But the U.S. is "quite pleased" with how China cooperated in drawing a tough sanctions resolution from the U.N. Security Council to punish North Korea for its fourth nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch in February.

"We do believe that the Chinese can and should do more on the North Korean issue," Lippert said, stressing that the priority now will be "robust implementation" of the sanctions.

Still, the Obama administration "leaves the door open" for North Koreans to return to the negotiating table as long as the focus of talks is on the North's denuclearization, he said.

On the allies' economic ties, Lippert said he believes implementation of the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, which went into effect four years ago, is going well.

There has been "significant progress" on outstanding issues related to automobiles, rules of origin and data transfer to the extent that the agreement is approaching "more of a state of implementation that looks like other free trade agreements we have with other countries."

Lippert also pointed out that Washington welcomes South Korea's interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying the regional trade pact "very much is an active issue under consideration in Washington." (Yonhap)

Park Si-soo pss@koreatimes.co.kr

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