Trump threatened to pull US troops from S. Korea, Japan in defense cost-sharing talks

Posted on : 2020-06-22 16:41 KST Modified on : 2020-06-22 16:46 KST
Bolton details US president’s talks with Moon over Seoul’s financial contributions to USFK
A copy of “The Room Where It Happened,” a memoir by former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton, in front of the White House. (Yonhap News)
A copy of “The Room Where It Happened,” a memoir by former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton, in front of the White House. (Yonhap News)

US President Donald Trump ordered officials to threaten to pull American troops out of South Korea and Japan so as to force them to up their financial contribution for the troop presence, former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said in his memoir “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” which will be published on June 23.

According to Bolton’s memoir, which the Hankyoreh reviewed on June 21, Bolton briefed Trump on the outcome of his visit to South Korea and Japan in July 2019 to discuss the issue of defense cost-sharing. At the time, Trump was asking South Korea to contribute US$5 billion to the cost of defense, just as he is now; the amount he demanded from Japan was US$8 billion. Bolton wrote that Trump “said, as he did more and more frequently, that the way to get the $8 and $5 billion annual payments, respectively, was to threaten to withdraw all US forces. ‘That puts you in a very strong bargaining position,’ said Trump.”

After being briefed about North Korean missile launches, Trump said, “This is a good time to be asking for the money.” Bolton related that “Trump went on to tell the others in the Oval, ‘John got it to one billion dollars this year. You’ll get the five billion dollars because of the missiles.’” Bolton concluded the account on a sarcastic note: “How encouraging.”

Bolton reported that Trump had a policy of demanding “cost plus 50 percent” for maintaining American bases overseas. For South Korea, that worked out to US$5 billion a year. “Because I feared Trump’s ultimate threat — withdrawing our troops from any country not paying what he deemed to be an adequate amount — was real in South Korea’s case, I tried to develop a strategy other than just refusing to do what Trump wanted,” Bolton wrote.

After Kim and Trump’s summit in Hanoi, at the end of February 2019, ended without an agreement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in made his way to Washington on Apr. 11. When Trump once again demanded US$5 billion, Moon objected that the amount was too large and pointed out South Korean companies’ substantial investment in the US.

On June 30, the very day that Kim, Moon, and Trump met at Panmunjom, Moon and Trump had a long debate about the cost-sharing issue at the Blue House. Moon observed that “the trade surplus had decreased since Trump’s inauguration, that South Korea was the biggest importer of US [liquefied natural gas], that Korean investment in the US has increased, and that the bilateral balance of trade was now more favorable to the US.” Moon explained that South Korea’s weapons purchases and the land it lent the American army free of charge were also important components of joint defense. And he emphasized that 2.4% of South Korea’s GDP was spent on defense.

But “Trump was now waving his hands, shrugging and sighing,” Bolton recalled. “The US had been the South’s military for 70 years, and now he was going to see Kim Jong-un so we could save the South.”

“Moon resisted,” Bolton said, “while acknowledging the vast amounts of US assistance, arguing that it wasn’t true that Seoul had only been a recipient of aid. South Korea had sent troops to Vietnam and Afghanistan, for example. But Trump was done, telling me to call up someone and start dealing.”

By Hwang Joon-bum, Washington correspondent

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