Seoul denies it played down U.S. base relocation cost
Suspicion has been raised the Defense Ministry underreported the amount of money it would have to pay for a U.S. military relocation project in an apparent move to circumvent public criticism.
A diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks indicated that the ministry of the former Roh Moo-hyun government in 2007 significantly downplayed the amount it would shoulder for the relocation of the U.S. Forces Korea to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province.
The ministry, however, flatly denied the suspicion, saying the calculation is not right.
“In a recent Ministry of National Defense press release, the ROKG (Republic of Korea Government) estimated that it would pay about half of the total coast of about $10 billion to relocate the USFK. However, USFK estimates that the ROK share will be far more than half,” the cable, dated April 2, 2007, said.
“This difference is attributable to whether and how other ROK contributions, such as burden-sharing costs (SMA: Special Measures Agreement) and ROK private-sector build-to-lease construction, are counted. If in fact, the SMA and BTL figures are factored in, the ROK contribution will equal 93 percent of the total cost.”
In the cable’s comment under the name of then U.S. ambassador to Seoul Alexander Vershbow, he expressed concern that the “sizable difference” between what was announced and the reality could cause a “problem.”
“USFK has encouraged MND to provide these details to the National Assembly and defend the position as important to the alliance. So far, however, MND has continued to put off this day of reckoning,” the comment reads.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry said that the cable saying that Korea’s share could reach 93 percent of the total is “not true.”
“It is not appropriate to include the USFK’s use of the SMA burden-sharing funds and BTL costs in Korea’s share of the relocation cost,” it said in a press release.
“The SMA funds are offered to the U.S. every year, irrespective of the relocation project, to support USFK’s efforts to maintain deterrence against North Korea and the stable conditions for the U.S. dispatch here.”
How to use the SMA funds has been a controversial issue here. In March 2009, the National Assembly agreed on the use of the funds for the relocation project, ministry officials said.
As part of a global U.S. troop realignment for strategic flexibility, the U.S. has been working to relocate its military headquarters in central Seoul and other camps north of Seoul to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. The relocation is to be complete by 2016.
The U.S. currently stations 28,500 troops here.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com)