NATIONAL

‘No discussion of US troop withdrawal at State Dept.’

By Kim So-hyun
  • Published : Sept 18, 2020 - 17:03
  • Updated : Sept 18, 2020 - 17:03

(Yonhap)

There is no discussion at the US State Department of withdrawing troops from South Korea, US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell said Thursday.

He made the remarks during a US Senate hearing after US Sen. Chris Coons asked whether the State Department could confirm that it was no longer considering pulling US troops out of South Korea -- a plan that was reportedly weighed by the Trump administration.

Coons also asked Stilwell if he could assure the Senate that if any such changes were made, they wouldn’t happen without close consultation with US allies, partners and the Congress. The assistant secretary replied: “Of course, these issues all require cooperation. So we will consult, but there is no discussion of that in the State Department.”

The US State Department handles the negotiations with South Korea on sharing defense costs for the upkeep of US Forces Korea.

Some observers say Washington could use the reduction of USFK troop numbers as a card in the deadlocked negotiations, considering its recent decision to cut troops in Germany.

US President Donald Trump has said, ahead of the presidential election in November, that he will significantly cut troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan as well as other areas.

The Trump administration plans to pull nearly 12,000 troops out of Germany after it pressured the European country to pay more for the upkeep of the troops.

During his testimony at the hearing, the topic of which was “advancing US engagement and countering China in the Indo-Pacific and beyond,” Stilwell criticized what he called China’s “malign activities,” but also said the US has “an important relationship with China, as do most countries in the world.”

“We are not asking countries to choose sides, but rather to stand up to protect their own national sovereignty, security, values and economic well-being. We are also asking the international community to join us in standing up for the international rules, norms and organizations that have provided for our collective peace, security and prosperity for generations,” he said.

Stilwell also said, “The resilience and strength of our global alliances and partnerships is paramount to addressing strategic competition with China, and in no region is this more true than the Indo-Pacific.”

The Indo-Pacific region includes Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and Taiwan. Japan, India, Australia and the US take part in Quadrilateral Consultations, known as the Quad, about diplomatic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.

Stilwell appears to have mentioned South Korea to stress that Seoul is on the same page with Washington regarding its Indo-Pacific strategy.

Mentioning the first ministerial-level meeting of the Quad in September last year, he said it “marked a new milestone” in Indo-Pacific diplomatic engagement.

In his written testimony, Stilwell mentioned achieving North Korea’s denuclearization as one of the areas where the US seeks to cooperate with China, but did not mention it during his actual remarks at the hearing.

About Taiwan, Stilwell said the recent visit to Taiwan by US Secretary of Health Alex Azar “demonstrates that the US will work with Taiwan on international issues such as global health, and upcoming economic engagements will further deepen our robust ties.”

US Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach visited Taiwan on Thursday, becoming the highest US State Department official to visit Taiwan since Washington severed diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenvin said Thursday that the US and Taiwan must “immediately stop” official exchanges.

By Kim So-hyun(sophie@heraldcorp.com)