Confusion over South Korea’s share of Camp Humphreys construction

Posted on : 2017-11-10 16:01 KST Modified on : 2017-11-10 16:01 KST
Funds used by USFK to pay for the base were part of the government’s defense contribution to US
 Gyeonggi Province (by Lee Jung-ah
Gyeonggi Province (by Lee Jung-ah

Is South Korea responsible for 50% or 92% of the construction costs for Camp Humphreys? At a Nov. 3 press briefing ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to the base in Pyeongtaek on Nov. 7, the Blue House said South Korea had covered 92% of the US$10 billion cost for the overall site and construction. The announcement provoked controversy, as the administration had previously claimed South Korea and the US would each be paying half.

What accounts for the difference? In short, administrative sleight of hand. To pay its share of the relocation costs, the US used part of the US Forces Korea defense contribution from the South Korean government. In the past, South Korean administrations have argued that the contribution was money given to the US, and thus was paid by the US. Now it has stealthily shifted to claiming South Korea footed the bill.

Camp Humphreys is a US military base built and expanded as part of a USFK relocation effort under way since the Roh Moo-hyun administration in the early 2000s. Entering full swing after an Apr. 2003 summit agreement by Roh and then-US President George W. Bush, the project has two parts. The Yongsan Relocation Plan (YRP) involves relocating Yongsan Garrison in Seoul to Camp Humphreys, while the Land Partnership Plan (LPP) is for the 2nd Infantry Division’s relocation to the same camp. Costs were to be distributed according to a “responsible party pays” principle agreed upon by both sides, with South Korea covering the Yongsan relocation and the US covering the 2ID relocation. The South Korean administration at the time claimed the two sides would be splitting the costs on a “roughly 50-50 basis.”

The newly constructed portion of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek
The newly constructed portion of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek

But as the projects went ahead, the question of how much South Korea was actually paying became a hot potato. In an Aug. 2008 interim project management report, the administration said the US would pay 7.5 trillion won (US$6.7 billion) and South Korea 5.8 trillion won (US$5.2 billion). South Korean civic groups alleged that South Korea was actually covering most of the project costs. In Mar. 2008, then-USFK Commander Gen. Burwell Bell told the US Congress that the two sides would be splitting the costs of the 2ID relocation 50-50 – a project the US was supposed to pay for fully.

The question here becomes who is seen as paying the USFK defense contribution that the US used to pay for the base relocation. The US has been applying the defense contribution it receives from South Korea every year toward the relocation project. A controversy previously erupted when the US was found to have amassed 1.1193 trillion won (US$1.0 billion) as of Oct. 2008 in funds that had not been used for the base relocation effort. The Lee Myung-bak administration calculated the money as the US’s contribution, arguing that defense contributions “become the US’s money the second they are deposited in the US’s account.”

Seoul continued sticking to the “50-50” story as late as 2015 – but offered no basis for its recent claim South Korea was paying 92% instead.

“My understanding of the 92% is that it included the South Korean defense contribution used by USFK,” a senior government official said, adding that it “should probably understood in terms of the national interest as a reversal of the administration’s position.”

Amid strong pressure from Trump to increase South Korea’s defense contribution, the two sides agreed at their Nov. 7 to “pursue defense cost-sharing at an adequate and reasonable level.” With negotiations on post-2019 cost-sharing looming, Seoul may have felt obliged to play up its contribution to strengthen its bargaining position.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Noh Kyu-duk said at a Nov. 9 briefing that procedures to select the senior representative for cost-sharing negotiations were “in their final stages.” The administration has reportedly nominated current South Korean ambassador to Sri Lanka Chang Won-sam.

By Park Byong-su, senior staff writer and Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter

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