October 23, 2020 12:45
There were violent scenes on Thursday as police dispersed protesters to let heavy trucks take construction equipment into a base where the U.S. has deployed a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery.
The Defense Ministry had mobilized 31 trucks to bring the equipment into the base in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province. It insisted the equipment is of a "non-military nature."
Police eventually succeeded in dispersing the demonstrators to let the trucks through.
Last year, the U.S. Forces Korea had to use helicopters to drop container boxes for use as temporary facilities in the base, which was formerly a golf course, because the sole access road was blocked.
"There is an utter shortage of facilities," a military source said. "The U.S. has been persistently complaining about that."
The issue was also raised in a joint statement following the latest round of U.S.-Korean defense ministers' talks earlier this month.
The continued protests could further strain bilateral relations which are already cooling over Korea's reluctance to join U.S. President Donald Trump's new cold war on China.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has twice snubbed Korea during his Asia trips this year. He is to visit India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives from Oct. 25 to 30. A few weeks ago, Pompeo canceled a stopover in Korea on a trip to Japan, where he attended a meeting of the anti-Chinese Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or "Quad" which also includes Australia and India.
The Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Pompeo spoke on the phone on Wednesday and Thursday and added that Kang will visit the U.S. soon.
Government officials privately express concerns that bilateral relations may be turning sour, as evidenced by the abrupt cancellation of a joint press conference after the defense ministerial talks. The two allies are at loggerheads over various issues, chiefly Trump's demand for Seoul to pay a bigger share of the USFK's upkeep.
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