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What Trump thinks of Korea

Oct 02,2019
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Bae Myung-bok
The author is a senior columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.

We have not seen a U.S. president like Donald Trump. He is a habitual liar who always wants to brag about himself. Exaggerations are a frequent part of his language. He is now facing a new crisis after it was revealed that he had pressured a foreign leader to investigate his potential rival before next year’s presidential election.

According to the Washington Post — which fact-checks Trump’s every remark and Twitter messages — Trump has lied or seriously distorted or misled facts 12,019 times over the past two and a half years. That means he lied at least 13 times a day on average.

Although he said 186 times that the U.S. economy is the best in the country’s history, it was actually better during the presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. Over 162 times, he claimed that he had carried out the largest-ever tax cut in history, but that is also not true. Taking into account the tax cut’s effect on gross domestic product, his tax cut was only the eighth largest in the past century.

One well-known lie is that Korea is enjoying a free ride for its security. During a media interview as a presidential candidate, Trump said that although the United States sends warships and aircraft to South Korea and conducts field exercises, it gets reimbursed for only “a fraction” of the total costs. He said that U.S. Forces Korea must withdraw unless South Korea pays more for defense cost-sharing.

In August, he said the United States was protecting the Korean border, but not the U.S. border. He also argued that even though the United States is spending its own money to protect South Korea’s security, Korea is enjoying a free lunch and its economy has prospered thanks to the U.S. protection. The best way to counter Trump’s lies once and for all is to end the argument using the voices of the American people.

Mark Lippert, former U.S. ambassador to Korea, had an interview with Yonhap News last week. In the interview, he said Korea is a strong ally of the United States, and presented three reasons why it was not enjoying a free lunch. First, Korean men are serving mandatory military duty, he said. Second, Korea spent $10 billion to build the largest U.S. military base overseas in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, he pointed out. Third, Korea has been increasing its defense costs by 4 to 8 percent annually, he stressed.

John Hamre, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, countered Trump’s argument with even more clear reasons. In his article, distributed last week, he said that U.S. Forces Korea are not mercenaries that compliment the Korean troops. He said that U.S. troops are in Korea not as a gift to Korea but to defend the United States’ interests.

He concluded that it is seriously wrong to threaten to pull out U.S. troops unless South Korea raises its defense cost sharing for next year to $5 billion. He also said Trump’s demand for $5 billion is only a negotiation strategy. The deal would be concluded at about $1.2 billion, he added.
During a presidential campaign fundraising event in New York in August, Trump told supporters about a childhood episode in which he went around apartments to collect rents with his father. “It was easier to get a billion dollars from South Korea than to get $114.13 from a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, and believe me, those 13 cents were very important,” he said.

It was a way to brag that he had raised the defense cost sharing by Korea to nearly $1 billion this year. But it is an insult to compare defense cost-sharing to an apartment rent. He seemed to consider the United States as a landlord and Korea as a tenant.

Even a vicious landlord does not ask a tenant to pay five times the rent overnight. The demand for higher defense cost-sharing clearly shows how Trump thinks of Korea.

Korea is already an easy target of U.S. defense companies. From 2008 to 2017, Korea purchased over $6.7 billion worth of U.S.-built weapons, becoming the third largest buyer of U.S. arms after Saudi Arabia and Australia. And that figure is only for the weapons that have arrived in Korea. If you include those to be delivered in the future, the contracts are worth over $33.4 billion in total.

Korea’s defense cost increase rate is the highest among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development because the purchases of U.S. weapons are largely increased. Next year, Korea’s defense budget will be up by 7.4 percentage points on year to go over 50 trillion won ($41.7 billion) for the first time.

Of the sum, 16.69 trillion won will be paid to U.S. defense contractors under the title of “capabilities upgrade.” Next year alone, 6.38 trillion won is earmarked to buy advanced fighter jets from the United States, including F-35s. That’s not all. A total of 57 trillion won will be spent for the Kill Chain, the Korea Air Missile Defense system and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation system to counter the North’s nuclear missiles. Purchases of U.S. military equipment inevitably increase the budgets that are required for maintenance, repair and upgrade, and they are often spent on U.S. defense contractors.

The basic principle of the Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement is that South Korea only offers the bases, while the United States pays for the cost of troop stationing. To follow the principle, the defense cost-sharing must not go up. It actually needs to be reduced or frozen. We must confidently — and sternly — counter Trump’s false argument if we want to be treated with respect.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 1, Page 31