‘US new base in South Korea may result in local arms race’

Washington’s plans to use a new South Korean base for the American Navy has raised harsh criticism in both the USA and South Korea. Policy analyst Christine Ahn fears this could spark Cold War-like tensions in the area.

­Washington’s plan will definitely add to instability in East Asia, said Ahn, of the Los Angeles-based Korea Policy Institute. The naval base under construction on Jeju Island, 50 miles southeast of the South Korean mainland, will risk both America’s and South Korea’s relations with China. 

If this base is tied to the US missile defense system, it might be part of the US strategy to contain China,” she said. “Beijing is concerned with the US military getting closer to its territories. This deal is going to foment a regional arms race, which pits Korea in between the US and China.

These fears continue growing in South Korea despite the country’s defense officials pledging that permanent stationing of US naval vessels at the base will not be allowed. Moreover, in the South Korean authorities’ view, the facility, which is to be completed in 2015, is meant to deter North Korea, not China.

Whatever number of the American vessels is to turn up at the base, the US presence on the Korean peninsula is already excessive, points out Ahn. The US military exercises that regularly take place in the area are viewed as highly confrontational by North Korea. All this stands in the way of unification of the two Koreas, and President Barack Obama’s recent harsh rhetoric toward North Korea does not add to the peace process.

There is a growing resentment in the two Koreas – and also in Okinawa and Guam,” she concluded. “Everywhere people are saying, ‘We have had enough of the US military occupation – it is time to close down the bases and time to find different ways for achieving security.

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