One of the most interesting things I observed during my recent visit to Seoul was the absence of any apparent arrangements to evacuate Yongsan Garrison, in the heart of Seoul. The relocation plan calls for the evacuation of Yongsan by the end of next year, and the movement of all of its facilities to Camp Humphreys, near the
shitty city of Pyeongtaek. Yet the only visible changes at Yongsan are improvements — the new bridge connecting Main and South Post, the hospital renovation, and the new shopping area near the PX. Otherwise, the place was eerily unchanged, although friends in the know tell me that most of the various offices do have plans to make the move. Eventually.
With the South Korean government’s timid response to the radical left’s transformation of the issue into one of nationalism and anti-American politics, the immediate question is whether the U.S. will be able to occupy its new home. It appears that question will be answered in the affirmative in the reasonably near future, but only after more violence, which will result in no prosecutions.
The greater issue is money, with the U.S. sounding increasingly discontented with the South Korean “final offer” on what they will contribute to the cost of the move. The issue has long been contentious, and one on which the U.S. side has shown some real spine. Assistant Secretary for Defense Richard Lawless has previously stated that absent a successful resolution of a related issue, the size of the new facility, the U.S. might just reduce the size of the contingent that moves to Humphreys and order the rest back home. Just over a year ago, the U.S. broke another cost-sharing deadlock by summarily laying off Korean workers it could no longer afford to pay. In that context, the news that the U.S. has requested a delay in the deadline for presenting a “master plan” for the move is ominous, at least for those who believe that USFK still serves U.S. interests.
In another sense, it’s an excellent idea. As with the FTA issue, controversial issues like this ought not to be aired out in the middle of an election campaign. Korea will hold local elections on May 31st. Better they should keep talking about Tokdo.