As President Donald Trump seeks a nuclear cope with North Korean chief Kim Jong Un subsequent week in Vietnam, some in Seoul are questioning if the destiny of Washington’s decades-long navy alliance with South Korea may very well be at stake.

A lot of this fear is linked to Trump’s repeated assertions that the U.S. navy deployment in South Korea is simply too pricey, and to his shock suspension of some U.S. navy workout routines with South Korea — together with a significant summertime drill — as a concession to Kim after their first summit in Singapore final yr. Added to this concern are insurance policies by South Korea’s liberal President Moon Jae-in that critics say favor engagement with North Korea on the expense of the alliance with Washington.

The broader U.S.-South Korean alliance, sealed in the course of the bloodshed of the 1950-53 Korean Struggle, will not be on the negotiating desk in the course of the summit in Hanoi on Feb. 27-28. However some observers say its long-term future may very well be unsure and that Trump could finally withdraw a few of the 28,500 U.S. troops deployed in South Korea.

“The Korea-U.S. alliance is severely sick now,” Kim Taewoo, the previous head of the government-funded Korea Institute for Nationwide Unification in South Korea, stated in a current speech.

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U.S. and South Korean officers keep that every little thing is ok.

After agreeing to extend its contribution to the price of the U.S. navy presence this yr, South Korea’s International Ministry stated final week that Washington insists it has no plans to regulate troop ranges. Throughout a telephone name with Moon on Tuesday, Trump additionally stated that U.S.-South Korea relations are higher than ever, in accordance with Moon’s workplace.

Trump stated earlier this month that he had no plans to withdraw troops, however he has beforehand threatened to drag them from South Korea and Japan if these nations refused to pay extra. After the Singapore summit, Trump additionally advised reporters: “I need to deliver our troopers (in South Korea) again dwelling.” Whereas asserting the suspension of a significant summertime navy drill, Trump known as the workout routines “very provocative” and “tremendously costly.”

U.S. protection officers aren’t planning any troop reductions however some have indicated that they’d not be stunned if Trump places reductions on the desk as a part of his negotiations with Kim. Different prospects that fear many in Seoul embrace that Trump will droop or drastically downsize one other main set of navy drills this spring, or that he’ll accept a deal the place the North abandons its long-range missile program aimed on the U.S. whereas not addressing the North’s shorter-range missiles focusing on Seoul and Tokyo.

An prolonged stoppage of complete coaching between the allies might weaken the militaries’ preventing capability, particularly since many U.S. troopers rotate out of South Korea after lower than a yr of service, some consultants say.

“Troopers’ preventing energy comes from coaching. If there are not any (large) joint drills for one yr, we’ll have (U.S.) troopers who’ve by no means skilled such drills,” stated Moon Seong Mook, an analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Analysis Institute for Nationwide Technique.

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North Korea, however, which has described the drills as preparation for invasion and responded with its personal pricey workout routines, would probably profit. North Korea has stated it was compelled to develop nuclear weapons to deal with what it calls American hostility.

Through the Singapore summit, Kim stated he was dedicated to the “full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” which has beforehand meant the North would solely denuclearize when the USA withdraws all its troops from South Korea and stops navy drills with the South. In December, North Korea’s state media stated it will by no means unilaterally abandon its nuclear program except Washington first removes its nuclear risk.

Some are additionally involved about stories that Trump could comply with declare the top of the Korean Struggle, which ended with an armistice, as a safety assure for the North. Such a declaration, thought of as a preliminary step earlier than signing a peace treaty to formally finish the struggle, might present the North with a foundation to step up its requires a U.S. troop pullout.

“If our safety is shaken, overseas investments will probably be pushed overseas and inventory costs will plummet,” stated the analyst Moon, a retired brigadier normal who took half in quite a few navy talks with North Korea.

A part of the controversy in South Korea displays a deep historic division over the U.S. navy.

For some, the U.S. navy rescued South Korea from the shock North Korean invasion that began the Korean Struggle. Others blame the USA for the 1945 division of the Korean Peninsula. Rallies that target the USA, each professional and anti, routinely happen in Seoul, however surveys present a majority of South Koreans help the U.S. troop deployment.

On Wednesday in a central Seoul neighborhood, placards that learn “Let’s shield the Korea-U.S. alliance, our lifeline, with our lives!” may very well be seen together with about 20 U.S. and South Korean flags. Close by, a few dozen individuals rallied behind a banner calling for Washington to not threaten peace on the Korean Peninsula. “Are we America’s colony?” one participant shouted.

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For the reason that struggle, the U.S. has stationed tens of hundreds of troops in South Korea to protect in opposition to North Korean assault. In the meantime, South Korea has grown into an economically affluent, devoted ally that has taken half in U.S.-led wars in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere.

U.S. troop numbers have progressively fallen over the a long time.

After then President Richard Nixon withdrew about one third of the 60,000 U.S. troops in South Korea in 1971, South Korean President Park Chung-hee ordered officers to covertly pursue a nuclear weapons program, which was later scrapped due to worry of U.S. sanctions.

Former President Jimmy Carter, a critic of Park’s suppression of human rights, sought to implement a marketing campaign promise to deliver again all 40,000 troops from South Korea. However he was opposed by many advisers and ended up bringing again about 3,000.

The departure of even a number of thousand U.S. troops might weaken the state of affairs militarily due to the lack of each the troopers and their weapons and gear. But it surely might additionally damage the U.S. navy’s efforts to counter a rising China.

“If (Trump) pulls again a few of troops due to cash points … he’d have extra to lose than he’d achieve,” stated analyst Kim Dong-yeop on the Institute for Far Japanese Research in Seoul. “Underneath the perspective of a U.S.-China safety framework, I’m wondering if (Trump’s troop drawdown feedback) are something extra than simply rhetoric.”


AP nationwide safety author Robert Burns In Washington contributed to this report.


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