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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korean externally-focused media on Tuesday said United States Forces Korea (USFK)’s presence on the Korean peninsula is not justifiable due to the inter-Korean military agreement of September 19, 2018, denouncing ongoing negotiations in defense cost-sharing between the U.S. and South Korea.
Uriminzokkiri — which primarily targets South Korean audiences — reported that the U.S. reportedly requested defense costs of around 4.7 to 5 billion dollars, which include expenses required to maintain and deploy U.S. strategic assets stationed abroad.
“This is the manifestation of Yankee-style arrogance and a barefaced thief-like mind,” the outlet said, in a commentary written by Jang Kil Sung.
“The Panmunjom Declaration, the Pyongyang Joint Declaration of September, and the North-South agreement in the military domain are the de facto non-aggression declarations that positively promise the termination of the fratricidal war by armed force between the North and the South,” it continued.
“It can be said that the justification that the U.S. stations its aggression troops in South Korea has already disappeared.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un previously described last year’s inter-Korean declarations and military agreement as a “de facto non-aggression declarations” in his 2019 New Year’s speech.
South Korean director of the presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong on September 19, 2018, also said that the inter-Korean military agreement, which was signed as an annex to the Pyongyang Joint Declaration, served a “de facto non-aggression agreement between the two Koreas.”
This is not the first time the North has condemned the USFK’s presence on the Korean peninsula, however.
In a statement from a DPRK government spokesperson, North Korea in July 2016 clarified that the “denuclearization being called for by the DPRK is the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula and this includes the dismantlement of nukes in South Korea and its vicinity.”
As one of the five principles of the agreement states, the ROK and the U.S. governments must declare the “withdrawal of the U.S. troops holding the right to use nukes from South Korea.”
In a commentary written by Jong Hyon, the country in December 2018 reiterated its stance on the denuclearization of the peninsula while asserting this doesn’t just mean North Korea but also the South, “where aggression troops including the nuclear weapons of the U.S. are deployed.”
Uriminzokkiri on Tuesday also said the U.S. has continued to deploy the USFK with the aim of gaining “military hegemony in the Northeast Asian region and conquering the world.”
“The U.S.… is rather gravely threatening the peace and security of the Korean peninsula as well as the world by continuously staging the joint military exercises to invade the North instigating the South Korean military.”
North Korean media criticism of the defense cost-sharing talks is not unusual, though Pyongyang does appear to have ratcheted up the rhetoric this week.
Monday saw Uriminzokkiri say the defense costs are “expenses for a war of aggression against the North [which aims] to exterminate our nation as well as expenses for pleasure to satisfy the endless profligacy and avarice of the occupation army.”
PRESSURE FROM THE U.S. AS WELL…
The reports come amid visits to Seoul by high-level U.S. officials as the two countries discuss pending issues including the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA), which is valid until December 31.
The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) between Seoul and Tokyo, which is also set to expire at midnight on November 22, is another matter of importance.
James Dehart, the chief U.S. negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks, made a surprise visit to Seoul on November 5 along with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is also set to arrive in South Korea on Thursday as the first leg of his trip to Asia.
Esper will attend the 51st U.S.-ROK Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) to be held in Seoul on Friday with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo.
The South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) last week said the two militaries plan to hold an “in-depth discussion on various security pending issues including the assessment of the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and policy coordination.”
The issues also contain the conditions-based transition of wartime operational control (OPCON), “future security cooperation, and the relocation and return of the United States Forces Korea’s base [to South Korea].”
Mark Milley also made his first overseas trip in his capacity as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to Japan and South Korea this week.
In Seoul, Milley and his South Korean counterpart Park Han-ki are scheduled to attend the 44th Military Committee Meeting (MCM).
The Pentagon on Monday said the U.S. JCS chairman’s visit to Seoul and Tokyo serves as a chance to “take the temperature of the U.S. alliance” with the two countries in an article carried on the official website.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) quoted Milley as saying that Americans are asking “fundamental questions” on U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and Japan, including their necessity, expenses, and the reason why “rich and wealthy countries” such as South Korea and Japan can’t defend themselves.
“These are main street USA questions,” Milley told the travel pool. “It is incumbent on us … to make sure we adequately explain how the U.S. military is a stabilizing force in Northeast Asia in preventing and deterring the outbreak of armed conflict.”
The JCS Chairman also reiterated Washington’s stance to support the renewal of the military intelligence-sharing pact, emphasizing that China and North Korea will be the beneficiaries of the friction between Tokyo and Seoul.
Milley urged Japan and South Korea to work together to address threats from China and North Korea as they have common interests in national security.
“They have common security problems to solve and that they will [be] stronger together rather than separate,” Milley said. “It is clearly in China’s interests and North Korea’s interests, to separate South Korea from Japan and the United States. It is in our interests to keep all three of us very closely aligned.”
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Seventh Air Force