October 27, 2014 12:21
Korea and the U.S. have agreed to keep the Combined Forces Command in Seoul even after the U.S. Forces Korea headquarters moves to Pyeongtaek in 2016. The CFC compound accounts for between eight to nine percent of the total area of the U.S. garrison right in the middle of Seoul.
If the housing compound for American Embassy staff is included, the total area of the base that the U.S. will continue to use rises to 17 percent. A Defense Ministry official claimed relocating the CFC further south would make it "difficult" to establish a smooth command system in conjunction with South Korean top brass in an emergency.
The official claimed that it would cost an additional W400 billion (US$1=W1,058) to relocate the CFC to Pyeongtaek. These are all valid reasons.
But Korea and the U.S. are in the process of building a new military base in Pyeongtaek at a cost of almost W9 trillion. Supporters say the move would help the U.S. military's capabilities. The CFC was to be among the facilities being relocated, and the budget had taken that into account. Now the military is saying that the CFC should stay in Seoul. That is an absurd reversal.
The government hopes to build a 2.64 million sq.m park at the Yongsan site that rivals New York's Central Park. The relocation of the U.S. garrison is also a highly symbolic event that signifies the return of land back to the Korean people after being used by foreign armies for around a century.
When Seoul and Washington agreed in 2004 to relocate the Yongsan base to Pyeongtaek, then U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it was absurd to have a foreign military base sitting in the middle of a nation's capital. Seoul agreed to shoulder the entire cost of the relocation because the Korean public agreed with Rumsfeld's view.
But now, the symbolic significance of the relocation is about to lose its luster although trillions of won in taxpayer's money have been spent.
At the crux of the development plans the government announced in 2011 was an eco-park connecting Namsan mountain and the Han River by 2017. It was hoped that this would also help decongest traffic by connecting bridges over the park. But the CFC compound would now remain sitting right in the middle of that putative park.
The government also hoped to make a huge profit by building and selling expensive condominiums along the edges of the eco-park and use the money to partially fund the relocation. It has already spent W4 trillion on the relocation. If the CFC stays in Yongsan, taxpayers will have to shoulder an even bigger burden.
The government and military probably want to tell the public that national security is more important that an eco-park. Does that mean that the agreement between the U.S. and Korea back in 2011 was signed in the belief that the park is more important than national security? It looks like the government has grossly miscalculated and mishandled this project.
The government must stop hallucinating that it has the right to revise the U.S. base relocation plan at whim and seek proper approval from the National Assembly and the public. If necessary, the CFC will have to move to Pyeongtaek.
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