[FOUNTAIN]Get rid of the unfair SOFAYuan Shikai (1859-1916), a Chinese army leader and the first president of the Republic of China (1912-16), was sent to Joseon Dynasty Korea by the Qing Dynasty as a diplomatic minister in 1884.
He was only 25 years of age then, and was said to be very handsome. He was nicknamed "the honorable supervisor" because his influence and power went beyond those of a diplomat, even outstripping those of the king of the tributary country. A rumor circulated among the diplomatic community in Seoul that Yuan almost hit King Gojong in the face when he grilled the king over the latter's alleged secret request to Russia for protection.
The Qing Dynasty played with Joseon like a toy ball for a decade before Yuan fled to his home country after China was defeated in the war against Japan in 1894. Japan made more progress with the decaying dynasty than China had. There was an attempted coup here in 1882 after the government decided to introduce a Japanese-style military system, and Japan stationed its army in Korea on the pretext of protecting its diplomats as it thrust itself into the turmoil. The Japanese army was housed in two places in Seoul: Seodaemun and Myeongdong. It was later garrisoned in the Yongsan area after Japan concluded a pact with King Gojong to make Korea its protectorate in 1905. Japan established military facilities around Itaewon and Namdaemun and stationed 2 of its 21 army divisions in Korea. The area is now called Yongsan-dong, Yongsan-gu. After Korea's liberation in 1945, the Eighth U.S. Army occupied the area used by the defeated Japanese Army.
Controversy is rising over the U.S. military's plan to demolish its aging on-base housing occupying 150,000 square meters on the garrison and replace it with 20 eight-story apartment buildings with 1,066 sets of family quarters. Building on the base is to be discussed bilaterally, according to the Status of Forces Agreement that governs the terms of the U.S. presence here; the matter should be easy to resolve. But 10 years ago, the Korean government and the U.S. Army agreed to move the U.S. Army's Yongsan Garrison out of Seoul. But the plan is up in the air because of the $10 billion price tag. The base area is a necessary part of the city's development plans.
The government must address the issue of moving the Yongsan U.S. base. The SOFA stipulates the U.S. Army's use of the land for free, one example of the unfairness of a treaty hurriedly made during the Korean War. The SOFA might be the first impediment to be done away with.
The writer is an editor of JoongAng Ilbo publications.
by Cho Woo-suk