South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday that “U.S. Forces Korea is a matter of ROK-U.S. alliance and has nothing to do with a peace treaty,” responding to the controversy provoked by Moon Chung-in, a special security and foreign affairs adviser to President Moon. Moon Chung-in wrote in his contribution to the U.S. foreign policy magazine Foreign Affairs, “If a peace treaty is signed between South and North Korea, it will be difficult to justify their (USFK) continuing presence in South Korea.” According to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman, Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok called Moon Chung-in and told him not to cause confusion in relation to the president’s stance on the matter. But this is a matter not to be dealt with lightly.
This is not the first time that Moon Chung-in made remarks about ROK-U.S. alliance and national security that are at odds with public consensus and principles. Every time he did that, Cheong Wa Dae dismissed the controversy by saying it is his “personal views.” But government policies turned out to have developed in much the same way as Moon Chung-in’s remarks. To be sure, Cheong Wa Dae would continue to distance itself from the special adviser’s views since pulling U.S. troops out of South Korea is an argument likely to be made by a radical leftist group that could be met with criticism from the public. Nevertheless, the fact that Moon Chung-in brought up the issue at this point might be an attempt to make a case for a withdrawal of U.S. forces repeatedly and include the issue in the official agenda in a few years.
“But there will be strong conservative opposition to the reduction and withdrawal of U.S. Forces Korea, posing a major political dilemma for President Moon,” wrote the special adviser in his contribution. But the withdrawal of USFK is not a decision that can or cannot be made just because the majority of the public votes in favor of it or the opposition parties does not approve of it. As Cheong Wa Dae said Wednesday, USFK is serving as a mediator between major powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula, such as China and Japan other than deterring the provocations by North Korea. Even the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il agreed to the continuing presence of USFK in the 2000 inter-Korean summit and incumbent North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is not demanding a withdrawal of USFK. In the United States, there has been skepticism about large-scale U.S. forces being stationed in foreign countries. In particular, U.S. President Trump used USFK as his bargaining chip to sign a profitable trade deal with South Korea. It is an act causing injury to the country for a presidential special adviser to talk about a withdrawal of USFK at a time when negotiations and talks that could make or break the future of the Korean Peninsula are underway.
Moon Chung-in has not stopped making controversial comments even after he received warning from Cheong Wa Dae in June 2017 when he said, “It wouldn’t be a true alliance if it breaks over the THAAD issue.” Not many people would believe that those comments are only his personal views. Foreign Affairs magazine introduced Moon Chung-in as “a special security and foreign affairs adviser to President Moon and honorary professor at Yonsei University.” Nevertheless, Cheong Wa Dae said Wednesday that it is “not considering a dismissal (of adviser Moon).” If President Moon Jae-in has a firm determination and philosophy about the necessity of U.S. forces’ presence in South Korea, he should not just stop at giving a warning to his adviser.
Kee-Hong Lee firstname.lastname@example.org