US defence chief to hold high-level talks with South Korean counterpart

South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will hold the 51st Security Consultative Meeting

mark esper south korea

Photo: Jeon Heon-kyun/AP

South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will hold the 51st Security Consultative Meeting today in Seoul.

Overshadowing the talks are the scheduled expiration of two key military agreements—South Korea’s intelligence sharing pact with Japan and Seoul’s defence cost-sharing deal with Washington, which expire November 23 and December 31 respectively.

In August, South Korea announced it would withdraw from the General Security of Military Information Agreement with Japan over a disagreement rooted in grievances from the 1910-1940 Japanese colonial period. Adding to the pressure is Washington’s push for Seoul to pay $5 billion next year to share the costs of maintaining 28,500 American troops in South Korea, more than five times the $924 million that South Korea agreed to shoulder this year.

While Seoul will likely renew the GSOMIA with Tokyo rather than risk its national security, the cost sharing agreement will be more difficult given the steep increase demanded by Washington. A failure to agree on cost sharing could mean a partial withdrawal of US troops. This worst-case scenario would damage the alliance by emboldening North Korea and pushing South Korea to go elsewhere for its security guarantees, including China.

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