Published: Thu, February 27, 2020
Global News | By Blake Casey

US and SKorea may cut back military moves due to coronavirus

US and SKorea may cut back military moves due to coronavirus

The absence of a new agreement will result in the furlough of South Korean nationals who work to support the USA military presence there, something the South Korean minister called "a hard pill to swallow".

The disclosure came during a visit to the Pentagon by South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, who acknowledged following talks with US Defence Secretary Mark Esper that 13 South Korean troops had tested positive for the virus.

The two defense chiefs also explained that they are considering scaling back some joint military exercises this spring due to concerns about the new coronavirus.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper made a comment about coronavirus figuring into considerations about the drills at the press conference following a meeting at the Pentagon with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo.

The two countries have been negotiating a new Special Measures Agreement to split the cost of the USA troop presence in South Korea, with Washington demanding a significant increase in Seoul's contributions.

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The South Korean defense minister, speaking through a translator, said that "due to the coronavirus in Korea, the situation is quite serious", saying that the US-South Korean military leadership "will make the right decision through close coordination" with regard to the command post exercise. South Korea is second in the world after China for the number of COVID-19 infections - 800 confirmed cases and eight deaths, as of Monday. Officials said 100 new cases were reported Friday, bringing the country's total to 204.

As "a global economic powerhouse and an equal partner in the preservation of peace on the peninsula", Esper added, "South Korea can and should contribute more to its defense".

If the illness incapacitates sufficient numbers of the armed forces, he said, it may well have an impact on nations' security or the ability of governments that have been using the military to provide medical support to people who are infected.

While South Korea has said it is willing to pay more, the US and South Korea have not agreed to the size of Seoul's contribution, despite several rounds of negotiations.

"The current Special Measures Agreement captures only a portion of the overall cost associated with the United States' defense of South Korea", Esper said. If no agreement is reached, Esper said, the USA will furlough most Korean employees on April 1 and would also suspend some construction and other activities.

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