ROK-U.S. News

Yonhap – S. Korea must consider both security, economy: Amb. Lee

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (Yonhap) — South Korea is in a “unique” position that may leave it unable to choose between its longtime ally, the United States, and largest trade partner, China.

That was the assessment Thursday from South Korea’s top diplomat in the United States.

The file photo, taken Jan. 26, 2020, shows South Korea's ambassador to the United States, Lee Soo-hyuck, speaking in a press conference in Washington. (Yonhap)The file photo, taken Jan. 26, 2020, shows South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Lee Soo-hyuck, speaking in a press conference in Washington. (Yonhap)

“If I put it in a short way, the relationship between the United States and China is very important, or critical to the fate of the Korean Peninsula, not only South Korea, but also North Korea,” Amb. Lee Soo-hyuck said in a webinar hosted by George Washington University’s Institute for Korean Studies.

His remark follows recent calls from Washington for Seoul to join the so-called Indo-Pacific Initiative, under which it seeks to build a NATO-like joint leadership in the region, but is viewed by many as an attempt to counter the growing presence of China throughout the globe.

“I think you are seeing the entire world begin to unite around the central understanding that the Chinese Communist Party simply is going to refuse to compete in a fair, reciprocal, transparent way,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.

“So whether it’s our friends in India, our friends in Australia, friends in Japan or South Korea, I think they have all come to see the risk to their own people, to their own countries, and you’ll see them partner with the United States to push back on every front that we’ve talked about this evening,” Pompeo added.

Lee underscored the history and importance of the U.S.-South Korean alliance, especially for his country’s security, but insisted the country cannot survive on security alone.

“Security alone cannot make one nation survive. Economic activities are as important as security,” said Lee. “Not one thing is most (more) important than the other. Both things, security and economy, should go together,” he told the virtual seminar.

China is by far South Korea’s single-largest trade partner, accounting for about one quarter of South Korea’s overall exports.

“In the process, Korea’s geopolitical uniqueness — the fact that the United States is our ally while China is one of our biggest trading partners in the region — needs to be considered,” the South Korean diplomat said, calling his country’s geopolitical uniqueness a “double-edged sword.”

“It could be a strength or weakness, depending on how we address and utilize it. And as the Korean ambassador, this is something to be mindful of when dealing with Korean Peninsula affairs,” added Lee.

Still, the ambassador dismissed the possibility that Seoul’s unique position between Washington and Beijing would weaken its alliance with the United States.

“I don’t agree with this kind of concept or judgment that our alliance is in trouble. No, I don’t think so. We have a very strong and healthy alliance between the United States and Korea,” said Lee.

He added any difference of opinion between the allies is only natural and can be sorted out in a constructive manner.

“Different opinions could occur in any field, not only security matters, but also in economy issues, social issues, on various issues,” Lee said. “It’s just (an) agenda of negotiation or consultation between the two countries.”

On the North Korean nuclear issue, Lee said the communist state will eventually return to the negotiating table, possibly soon after the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, until then likely refraining from any military provocation.

“I am quite sure in some time, North Korea will come to the negotiating table and comply with the international community’s demand,” Lee said when asked when and if North Korea would accept the call for a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear development program.

“North Korea cannot survive with the sanctions enforced by the Security Council of the United Nations and the individual sanctions from various countries, including the United States,” the South Korean diplomat offered as part of the reason for his optimistic view.

His remark comes amid a prolonged deadlock in denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

The talks have stalled since a second bilateral summit between their leaders — President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — in February 2019 ended without a deal.

The South Korean ambassador noted the communist state may be continuing to build up its nuclear capabilities, but that the talks have at least stopped their nuclear and long-range missile tests.

“Still, we believe that they are promoting their capability to increase the nuclear power. But I think at least they stopped nuclear tests. They stopped launching long-range missiles,” Lee said.

North Korea staged its sixth and latest nuclear test in September 2017, a few months before its leader and the U.S. president held the first U.S.-North Korea bilateral summit in June 2018.

Although it has also kept away from launching any long-range missiles, many suspect the communist state may soon unveil a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), possibly at its military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party on Oct. 10.

Lee insisted there will be a chance to resume negotiations with North Korea should the regime maintain this trend of nuclear and missile testing moratorium, adding Pyongyang will unlikely ruin that chance.

“I have a hunch that North Korea is waiting for the November election here in the United States…So I don’t think there would be some drastic change of this trend,” he said.

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Yonhap – N.K. unlikely to seek engagement with Seoul until next year’s campaign season: ex-USFK commander

By Oh Seok-min

The file photo taken Oct. 17, 2019, shows former U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks speaking at a banquet in Seoul on Oct. 17, 2019. (Yonhap)

The file photo taken Oct. 17, 2019, shows former U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks speaking at a banquet in Seoul on Oct. 17, 2019. (Yonhap)

SEOUL, Sept. 3 (Yonhap) — North Korea is unlikely to seek engagement with South Korea until next year as the regime believes it would have better leverage to deal with Seoul after the country’s presidential election season kicks off, former U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks said Thursday.

During the third and the final session of the annual Seoul Defense Dialogue (SDD), Brooks also called for both maximum pressure on and engagement with North Korea while moving away from classic views about what steps Pyongyang will take in the future.

“In 2021, the South Korean government is in its final year, and campaigning is ongoing. North Korea will be going to wait until 2021 before they begin to engage South Korea. South Korea will continue to try, of course, but I think there would be limited responses, and likely negative responses until such times, as North Korea thinks they have better leverage,” Brooks said.

President Moon Jae-in’s five-year term ends in May 2022.

As for relations with Washington, the North is likely to wait until the November election, though it leaves the door for dialogue open, according to Brooks, who headed the 28,500-strong USFK from 2016 to 2018.

“Pyongyang controls the pace of engagement. They decide when they are going to open a door and when they slam the door closed,” he claimed.

In June, North Korea threatened to take military actions against South Korea, calling it an “enemy,” primarily in protest over Seoul’s failure to stop defectors from conducting anti-regime propaganda leaflet campaigns. The North then cut all communication lines with the South, and blew up the inter-Korean liaison office building in the border town of Kaesong.

“I think their recent slamming of the door was much a reflection of North Korea being significantly overwhelmed internally. They have the pressures of COVID-19, pressures of sanctions, they had weather conditions that continue to this date with yet another typhoon approaching,” Brooks said.

In order to keep North Korea on the path for dialogue, the maximum pressure and engagement campaign is important, according to the former commander.

“Together, two approaches — pressure and engagement — create both necessary and sufficient conditions to keep North Korea focused on the task and moving in the right direction. … We’ve shifted potential military conflicts (in 2017) to one that created potential for peace through diplomacy,” he said.

Noting that engagement is the harder challenge, while pressure is easier to participate in, the former commander said there seems to be “an easy drift towards the continuance of pressure and the diminution of engagement,” which serves as a challenge to be able to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula in the future.

Asked about possible scenarios of the North’s future provocations, Brooks said it does not necessarily mean a return to traditional, military ways of provocation.

“The use of conventional weaponry or even the use of missiles or nuclear technologies isn’t necessarily where they are going to go. There could be a new way to use those, but it’s also possible that they are thinking completely differently about how to create pressure on different countries of the region,” Brooks said.

“Isn’t there a chance to threaten China in a different way? If North Korea would do that, one should recognize that would be risky, but North Korea has engaged in risky behaviors that defy expectations before,” he said. “I think we have to be very broadminded about that. North Korea is very creative and very unpredictable.”

In his New Year’s Day message, leader Kim Jong-un warned he will show off a “new strategic weapon” in the near future, which experts said may mean an advanced type of its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Kim also warned earlier of taking a “new way” if Washington fails to change its stance.

Alexander Minaev, professor of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, however, called for lifting sanctions against the North, claiming that leader Kim would never cooperate with the international community as long as the sanctions regime remains in place.

“The U.S. stubbornly continues the policy of tough sanctions. But it is time to understand that these methods do not work against North Korea,” the professor said. “Sanctions would only take a toll on ordinary citizens, not the regime. Pressure and sanctions cannot solve the nuclear problem.”

Nakamitsu Izumi, high representative for U.N. Disarmament Affairs, stressed the importance of the continued unity of the Security Council members.

“We all need to invest political efforts in making sure that the cooperation will continue and that the unity of the Security Council will be preserved. This will be absolute essential for any peaceful solutions on the Korean Peninsula,” Izumi said.

To address nuclear challenges, Fan Jishe, director of the Institute for International Strategic Studies of China’s Central Party School, said the establishment of a detailed road map, as well as multilateral working-level talks, is a must.

“Without the follow-on moves after the summitry, all progress achieved through summitry could be reversed as what happened this year,” he said.

Denuclearization negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea have made little progress since the no-deal summit in Hanoi last year due to the gap over the scope of Pyongyang’s denuclearization and sanctions relief by Washington.

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Yonhap – N. Korea moving to boost missile capabilities: U.S. defense official

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) — North Korea is continuing to build its long-range missile capabilities, possibly including a submarine-launched ballistic missile, a ranking U.S. defense official said Wednesday.

“We don’t know what the risk is because we know that North Korea is trying to increase the size of its ICBM capabilities, maybe even move to a submarine launched ballistic missile, but we don’t know the extent of that,” said Rob Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy.

Shown are images of the test-firing of North Korea's Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29, 2017, released by the Rodong Shinmun, an organ of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Shown are images of the test-firing of North Korea’s Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29, 2017, released by the Rodong Shinmun, an organ of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Soofer’s remark comes months after the South Korean Defense Ministry said the North may showcase a new intercontinental ballistic missile or a submarine-launched ballistic missile in a massive military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party on Oct. 10.

North Korea has kept a moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile testing since late 2017 when it staged its sixth and latest nuclear test, a few months before leader Kim Jong-un held a historic summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

The communist state, however, is suspected of having maintained clandestine programs to further its nuclear and missile capabilities.

Soofer, speaking in a webinar hosted by U.S.-based Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, said the U.S. is enhancing its missile defense capabilities in response, partly with the standard missile-3 (SM-3) block IIA, which he said may be deployed in the near future.

“We will conduct a test before the end of this calendar year, and if it works, then figure out some way to integrate into our defense,” he said.

“And if it does work now, we have the capability to address the North Korean threat,” added Soofer.

The so-called U.S. missile shield has partly been blamed for triggering an arms race, especially with nuclear states such as China and Russia, but the defense official insisted the new SM-3 interceptors will pose no threat to such countries, given their small number and the fact that they will be “spread throughout the region.”

When asked about ongoing discussions on the benefits of the U.S. pledging to “no first use” of nuclear weapons, the defense department official said the U.S. should not give its adversaries and those of its allies the wrong idea.

“The problem with a no first use pledge is that it lowers the risk to adversaries who are contemplating a conventional attack against our allies. They may think…if they attack us with conventional forces, overwhelming conventional forces, say, in the Korean Peninsula, that they could push us back,” he told the online seminar.

South Korea has been and still is under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, under which the U.S. offers nuclear deterrence against threats from other nuclear states against South Korea, a non-nuclear state.


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Korea Herald – Kim Jong-un did not delegate power: Ex-US commander

By Choi Si-young

Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of the ROK-US Combined Forces Command from 2016-2018 (Yonhap)
Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of the ROK-US Combined Forces Command from 2016-2018 (Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has not passed down his key posts and that means Kim has not delegated power, retired Gen. Vincent Brooks, who was commander of the 28,500-strong United States Forces Korea between 2016 and 2018, said in response to a South Korean intelligence analysis.

The National Intelligence Service told lawmakers on Aug. 20 that while Kim holds absolute power, he has delegated some of it to key aides including his sister Kim Yo-jong, who, the agency added, is the de facto No. 2, though not an officially designated successor to Kim Jong-un.

Brooks told Voice of America on Saturday that the North has seen changes in leadership roles — for example, Kim Yo-jong’s elevated status. But rather than a sign of power sharing, he said, the shakeup instead signals aides loyal to the 36-year-old leader are taking on senior-level responsibilities.

The former commander said, however, that Kim Jong-un trusts no one completely, and he names aides to positions based on their loyalty.

Brooks also said he disagreed with a ruling party lawmaker’s recent comment that the United Nations Command in Korea was “illegitimate.” The command is in charge of Demilitarized Zone affairs between the two Koreas, which still remain technically at war without a formal peace treaty.

Ruling party Rep. Song Young-gil, who chairs the South Korean parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, said earlier that the command, led by an American general, was legally unsound and “illegitimate” in its founding so it should be kept in check to prevent it from interfering with inter-Korean affairs.

Brooks said the command has a long tradition going back decades and that without it, inter-Korean talks would not have followed.

The former commander added that it was appalling to see the devaluing of an organization backed by the United Nations, when South Korea gained legitimacy as a sovereign state upon UN recognition.

The UN Command was established by a resolution the UN Security Council passed two days after the Korean War broke out in June 1950. The Command — comprising 16 UN member states under an American general — was instrumental in countering invading North Korean forces, mainly backed by China.

United States Forces Korea was set up in 1978 and took over wartime operational control from the UN Command. The USFK chief leads the Combined Forces Command between Seoul and Washington.

By Choi Si-young (

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Yonhap – Pentagon official calls for distributing ‘heavily concentrated’ U.S. troop presence from Northeast Asia

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) — U.S. troops are concentrated in Northeast Asia and should be distributed to better respond to evolving security challenges, including China, a senior Pentagon official has said.

“We are heavily concentrated in Northeast Asia,” David Helvey, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific affairs, said, according to a news report by the U.S. Department of Defense news on Monday.

“We’d like to be able to make our presence more geographically distributed, more operationally resilient,” Helvey said. “Maybe, the future is going to be less about bases and more about places — being able to operate across a multiplicity of locations, which give us the flexibility and the agility to respond to a variety of different threats and challenges.”

His comments came when the U.S. has been pushing for greater “strategic flexibility” for its forces deployed around the world amid speculation that it could consider pulling some troops out of South Korea.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said earlier that he wants to pursue more rotational force deployments into theaters as it give the U.S. greater strategic flexibility in terms of responding to challenges around the globe, though he stressed that he has not issued an order to withdraw forces from the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea’s defense ministry also made it clear that any reduction of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) has not been discussed between the two sides. Currently, around 28,500 U.S. service members are stationed in South Korea.

This photo taken on Feb. 27, 2020, shows the U.S. Forces Korea's Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)

This photo taken on Feb. 27, 2020, shows the U.S. Forces Korea’s Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)

This photo taken on Feb. 27, 2020, shows the U.S. Forces Korea’s Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)

Helvey then said that the flexible presence is to ensure the U.S. is resilient in the face of a variety of threats, including China.

“One of the key things in our strategy is talking about putting the relationship with China on a trajectory of transparency and non-aggression,” the official said. “That’s going to require a sustained, open channels of communication with the Chinese — the secretary has talked to his Chinese counterpart a number of times already.”

The U.S. and China may have issues of common interest where they could work together, such as North Korea and COVID-19.

“There’s other areas where we may have opportunities to cooperate based on shared interest, but that’s something we have to work in with Chinese to identify,” he said.

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Yonhap – Air Force chief nominated as new Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) — Air Force Chief of Staff Won In-choul has been tapped to lead South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the defense ministry said Monday.

If his appointment is confirmed, Won will succeed Gen. Park Han-ki, who took office in October 2018. No official term of office is set, but the JCS chairman is supposed to serve for around 18 months to two years.

President Moon Jae-in plans to officially appoint him after a parliamentary confirmation hearing that will follow Cabinet deliberations slated for Tuesday, according to the ministry.

Air Force Chief of Staff Won In-choul speaks during a parliamentary meeting in Seoul on July 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

Air Force Chief of Staff Won In-choul speaks during a parliamentary meeting in Seoul on July 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

Won, 59, has served in various commanding posts, including the JCS’ vice chief and the chairman of the Air Force Operations Command.

“As an expert in the field of joint operations, Won is equipped with strategic insight and commanding ability for military maneuvers,” the ministry said in a statement.

“He also has capabilities and professionalism enough to push for the defense reform and the envisioned transfer of the wartime operational control (OPCON),” it added.

South Korea and the U.S. are working for the OPCON transition of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul.

The nomination is somewhat unexpected, as Won joined the military one year earlier than Defense Minister nominee Suh Wook. Traditionally, a defense minister is more senior than a JCS chairman in South Korea.

Won was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1984 following his graduation from the Korea Air Force Academy, and Suh was commissioned in 1985 after graduating from the Korea Military Academy. Suh was tapped by President Moon last week.


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Yonhap – Trump wants allies to bear burden, pay fair share: security adviser

WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 (Yonhap) — The United States wants its allies to pay their fair share when it comes to defending their common values, the U.S. national security adviser said Friday, amid a deadlock in talks with South Korea on how much the latter should pay for hosting U.S. troops.

Robert O’Brien, assistant to President Donald Trump for national security affairs, said the U.S. president contends it cannot just be the U.S. writing the checks.

“We want to make sure that our allies bear the burden and pay their fair share when it comes to defending the global commons, when it comes to defending the alliance,” O’Brien said in a webinar hosted by the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank based in Washington. “It can’t just be the U.S. anymore.”

Seoul and Washington have held a series of negotiations since late last year to set South Korea’s share under a burden-sharing scheme, known as the Special Measures Agreement.

The talks resumed earlier this month after what Assistant Secretary of State Clarke Cooper, in charge of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau at the State Department, called a “pause.”

Seoul has offered to increase its annual contribution by 13 percent from the US$870 million it paid under last year’s agreement. Washington, on the other hand, seeks a 50 percent spike to $1.3 billion per year. That is down considerably from its initial demand of $5 billion.

The U.S. currently maintains about 28,500 service members in South Korea.

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Yonhap – All 4 Koreans in SUV die after crash with U.S. armored vehicle in Pocheon

POCHEON, South Korea, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) — Four South Koreans died after their car crashed into a U.S. armored vehicle on Sunday night in Pocheon, north of Seoul, police said.

The two couples were heading home when their sport utility vehicle rear-ended the U.S. armored vehicle at around 9:30 p.m. near the Rodriguez Live Fire Range.

The occupants, all in their 50s, were pronounced dead after being taken to a nearby hospital and receiving emergency treatment including CPR.

One American soldier sustained a minor injury and was taken to a hospital.

The SUV’s engine was damaged beyond recognition due to the impact of the crash, while the armored vehicle’s caterpillar tracks on the right side were damaged.

U.S. soldiers in the armored vehicles were on their way to their base in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, after a drill, the police said, adding that the road where the accident occurred was frequently used by U.S. armored vehicles.

The police have requested an autopsy of the driver and were investigating whether the driver’s taking over the wheel from another person minutes before the crash had anything to do with the accident.

“USFK, Eighth Army and 2nd Infantry ROK-US Combined Division are fully cooperating with the KNP (Korean National Police) investigation,” U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement issued on Monday.

“USFK offers its deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the deceased following this tragic accident,” the U.S. military said, adding that the Eighth Army is temporarily suspending training in the area out of respect to those killed and their families.

In a tweet, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris joined the USFK in expressing his “deepest” condolences to the families and loved ones of the Koreans who died in the accident.

This photo provided by the Gyeonggi Northern Fire Department shows the scene of a car accident on Aug. 30, 2020, in Pocheon, South Korea, which left four Koreans dead. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This photo provided by the Gyeonggi Northern Fire Department shows the scene of a car accident on Aug. 30, 2020, in Pocheon, South Korea, which left four Koreans dead. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The photo provided by the Gyeonggi Northern Fire Department shows the scene of an accident on Aug. 30, 2020, in Pocheon, South Korea. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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Yonhap – S. Korea, U.S. set to wrap up summertime combined exercise

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Aug. 28 (Yonhap) — South Korea and the United States were set Friday to wrap up their two-week summertime combined military exercise staged in a scaled-back manner due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

The computer-simulated Combined Command Post Training (CCPT) began on Aug. 18 as the first major exercise between the two countries this year, as they called off their annual springtime exercise due to COVID-19.

The first part of the exercise, which ran until Saturday, focused on how to defend the South against an invasion by North Korea, and the second part from Aug. 24-28 was based on a scenario of launching a counterattack in response, according to the officials.

The exercise was pushed back two days behind schedule, after a South Korean Army officer who was supposed to take part in the exercise tested positive for the coronavirus.

Earlier this week, a South Korean civilian worker of an Army unit taking part in the exercise also tested positive, but the case has not had any major impacts on the exercise as the employee was not a direct member of the training and key service members were not exposed to the virus, defense ministry officials said.

“We’ve put in place strict prevention guidelines to ensure the health of our service personnel participating in the exercise. No major problems were reported during the training, and it is under way normally,” a military official said.

Since mid-August, South Korea has seen a drastic surge in confirmed COVID-19 patients, with the number of new daily cases reaching the highest levels since March.

South Korean and American service members prepare for joint disinfection work against the new coronavirus in South Korea's southern city of Daegu on March 27, 2020, in this photo provided by the Korean Army. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

South Korean and American service members prepare for joint disinfection work against the new coronavirus in South Korea’s southern city of Daegu on March 27, 2020, in this photo provided by the Korean Army. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The virus also prevented American troops necessary for the program from coming to South Korea due to coronavirus-related movement restrictions, forcing the exercise to be held on a smaller scale. Seoul and Washington also skipped nighttime training programs out of virus concerns, the officer noted.

As the exercise was staged in an adjusted manner, Seoul and Washington were unable to fully carry out the planned Full Operational Capability (FOC) test for Seoul’s envisioned retaking of the wartime operational control (OPCON) of its forces from the U.S.

As the FOC test is one of the crucial steps to verify if Seoul is on course to meet the conditions for the transition, chances are that the envisioned transfer is unlikely to take place within the current Moon Jae-in administration, whose term will end in May 2022.

No specific deadline has been set for the OPCON transition, as it is conditions-based, not time-based, though many see the two sides eyeing around 2022 as the target date.

The FOC test is expected to be conducted again in the first half of next year. Following the FOC test, the two sides will carry out a Full Mission Capability (FMC) test.

This time, North Korea has not made any official responses to the combined exercise, though it has long lashed out at the joint program, claiming that it is a rehearsal for invasion of the North.

Pyongyang appears to have been focusing on quarantine efforts against the new coronavirus as well as recovery work after damage by recent heavy downpours and the powerful Typhoon Bavi, military officers said, adding that the communist country also carried out its summertime military drills in an adjusted manner due to those internal challenges.

No more major combine exercises are scheduled for this year between Seoul and Washington, except for small-scale ones between or among units, according to the officials.


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Yonhap – Defense chief nominee seen as field ops expert, fit for OPCON transfer drive

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Aug. 28 (Yonhap) — Defense Minister nominee Suh Wook, the current Army chief of staff, is seen as an expert in field military operations and fit to lead South Korea’s envisioned retaking of wartime operational control (OPCON) from the United States.

After a parliamentary hearing process, the 57-year-old general will replace Jeong Kyeong-doo as defense minister. Jeong is leaving after two years on the job. He was the first defense minister hailing from the Air Force in nearly three decades.

Suh was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1985 after graduating from the Korea Army Academy, and has served in various prominent posts in the Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Suh has led the Army since April 2019.

“He has ample experiences in field maneuvers and military operations, and has expertise in joint and combined operations,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Kang Min-seok said. “We expect him to contribute to maintaining a strong readiness posture based on experiences and insight through his service for more than 30 years.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Suh Wook speaks during a parliamentary meeting in Seoul on July 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Suh Wook speaks during a parliamentary meeting in Seoul on July 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

The Army general is also seen well suited to push for the envisioned OPCON transfer of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul based upon his career at the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command between 2011 and 2014.

The current Moon Jae-in government has sought to retake operational control of its troops from the U.S. within his term which ends in May 2022, though it is not time-based but conditions-based. The two countries have been working to verify if Seoul is on course to meet the conditions for the transition.

“He is the right person to push for the OPCON transfer based upon the strong South Korea-U.S. alliance and defense reform without a hitch to build a strong military,” Kang added.

President Moon appears to be seeking stability over drastic changes and reforms in his final years in office while trying to “balance” among all armed forces by choosing the figure from the Army, according to experts.

If approved, he will be the first defense minister with an Army background under the Moon administration. Jeong’s predecessor and Moon’s first defense minister, Song Young-moo, was a retired Navy admiral.

Suh is also known to have a good understanding of Moon’s governing philosophy and knowledge of the inter-Korean military relationship.

During his service at the JCS’ chief directorate of operations, he was engaged in the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement signed on Sept. 19, 2018, which calls for halting all hostile acts against each other and pushing for trust-building measures, officials said.

“It is my honor to be nominated. I also feel heavy responsibility,” Suh said. “I will do my best to achieve strong national security and to build a strong and proud military for the people by embracing together armed forces of all branches and officers.”

Asked about his plan regarding the OPCON transfer push, the nominee said he “will strive to meet the required conditions.”

The right conditions are South Korea’s capabilities to lead the allies’ combined defense mechanism, its capacity for initial responses to the North’s nuclear and missile threats, and a stable security environment on the peninsula and in the region.




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