Relocation of bases agreed to by U.S., says ministry

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Relocation of bases agreed to by U.S., says ministry

The Ministry of National Defense announced Tuesday that the decision to speed up the process of relocating U.S. military bases across the country was consulted on and agreed to by the U.S. government.

“The question of relocating U.S. military bases and the return of the land being used by the bases is one that we have discussed for a long period of time, since we began speaking about moving the bases to Pyeongtaek and other areas,” said Choi Hyun-soo, spokesperson of the ministry, in a press briefing at the ministry headquarters in central Seoul on Tuesday. “The United States has given a positive response regarding speeding up the relocation of bases.”

Korea and the United States agreed in May 2003 to relocate 80 U.S. Army bases across the country to Pyeongtaek and Daegu. As part of the agreement, the U.S. Forces Korea and United Nations Command moved their headquarters to Camp Humphreys in June 2018.

The Blue House on Friday announced its intention to speed up the relocation process of the remaining 26 U.S. military bases, which some experts considered a message to the United States to express its dissatisfaction about Washington’s open criticism of Korea pulling out of a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia).

“The announcement by the government was a message to the public to say the land that will open up will then be used for the best interests of the people,” Choi said. “It is not, as some analysts have suggested, a message to the U.S. government regarding the latest diplomatic and security issues between Korea and the United States, and Korea and Japan.”

After the Blue House announced on Aug. 22 its decision to pull out of Gsomia, first signed in 2016 and renewed annually since then, both U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper expressed disappointment.

They emphasized hopes for Korea and Japan - major U.S. allies in the region - to work together beyond historical disputes and trade issues.

Korea’s decision to pull out of Gsomia followed Japan’s announcement of its removal of Korea from a list of trusted trade partners earlier in August. Japan also put trade restrictions on Korea in July.

Many in Korea read Japan’s decision as a retaliatory measure following the Korean Supreme Court’s decision last year ordering Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonization of Korea. Japan annexed Korea from 1910 to 1945, during which at least 148,961 people were forced into labor in Japan, according to Korea’s prime minister’s office.

The office projected that around 5,000 of the victims were still alive as of last year.

The top court acknowledged the illegality of Japan’s colonial rule over Korea and recognized that the victims’ rights to individual compensation have not expired. Tokyo maintains that a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral relations with Seoul settled all compensation matters.

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