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[Editorial] Is There a Government or Not?

Posted December. 11, 2001 09:20,   


The Korea-resident U.S. military`s plans to build an apartment complex on the Yongsan base calls for an urgent response from the Korean government. As news of this plan spread, it provoked much opposition and even led some to think that the U.S. military is planning to be permanently stationed in Korea. This does not bode well for Korea-U.S. relations. NGOs appear ready to expand their opposition. The U.S. military cannot build the apartments in Yongsan by its own resources. The row houses in South Post of Yongsan base, on which the U.S. military plans to build its new apartments for officers and their families, is a natural preserve area according the present city planning regulations. In order to build apartments there, the land has to be changed into a residential area. This falls within the Korean government`s jurisdiction, not the American military. Although the U.S. military is using the Yongsan base, it only has a lease. In order to sign a contract with construction companies and begin building, the Korean Department of Defense has to sign on as a contracting party since the land belongs to the Korean government.

Ultimately, if the U.S. military wants to build the apartments, it needs the cooperation of the Korean Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Trade and Foreign Affairs, and the City of Seoul. It is our conclusion, however, that they must not give such cooperation. Yongsan base was already supposed to be returned to Korea by the U.S. in 1991. Although the 10 billion dollars the U.S. is requesting for moving costs has been a stumbling block and stalled negotiations, the land has to be handed back in the long term. If the U.S. military builds some 1000 apartments, who will believe that the U.S. side has the intent to ever give back the land?

The fact that the U.S. military has not initiated formal talks with the Korean government after receiving plans from the construction company is also unsatisfactory. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) has a provision that requires cooperation with the Korean government when constructing new buildings. The U.S. military`s evading this provision is enough to make us think that it is trying to push the construction to the point where it cannot be negotiated. Although the U.S. side says that it will begin negotiations with the Korean government once the business plans are confirmed. Yet, in the case of the American military base in Kangwon, Chunchun city, the U.S. built residential buildings without consulting the city and is in the final stages of construction. This makes it hard to trust what the U.S. military is saying about the Yongsan base.

If the apartment issue becomes closed without mutual solution, this will definitely not help Korea-U.S. relations. It is important for the Ministry of National Defense and others to urge the U.S. military to reconsider its problematic plans, but it is more important for these ministries to send a clear `No` to the current plans for construction.