Seoul reviews measures to protect Strait of Hormuz

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Seoul reviews measures to protect Strait of Hormuz

Korea seems to have begun exploring concrete ways to help ensure freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz amid apparent pressure from the United States.

Briefing media on the results of a weekly session of the National Security Council’s (NSC) standing committee Thursday, the Blue House said its members reviewed how to contribute to the international community’s efforts to protect Korean people and ships “in the vicinity of the Strait of Hormuz” and secure maritime security there. It gave no details in a four-paragraph press statement on the meeting presided over by Chung Eui-yong, director of national security at the presidential office.

The United States has sought support from its allies, including Korea, for its operation in the world’s single most important oil passageway, especially since the rise of tensions with Iran several months earlier.

There has been no confirmation yet of whether Washington has formally requested Seoul’s support to that end.

Like in other countries, sending troops abroad is a very sensitive issue here. Korea’s security officials have internally discussed options.

Some media here reported that the government is considering expanding Korea’s military role and activity there “in stages.”

A possible first step is to dispatch a defense officer to the local combined command led by the U.S. military.

Korea’s antipiracy Cheonghae Unit is already operating in the Gulf of Aden. Earlier this month, the National Assembly passed a motion to extend its mission, which started in 2009, through Dec. 31, 2020.

Broadening its operational areas to cover the strategically important waters may also be a choice.

Blue House officials have reiterated that no decision has been made yet. They have been cautious and prudent about mentioning the matter in public. What’s noteworthy is that the Blue House has included the issue in its press briefing on the NSC meeting.

It came as Seoul is in tough negotiations with Washington on splitting the financial burden for the presence of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea.

The United States is demanding Korea pay far more, reportedly a fivefold hike from this year’s share of $870 million. Korea has emphasized its commitment to playing a bigger role in handling not only regional security problems but also global affairs.

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