January 23, 2003 | News Releases on Asia
Asia Expert Suggests Ways to Improve U.S. - South Korea Alliance
The alliance between South Korea and the United States remains
stronger than media images would suggest, but leaders on both sides
should take steps to strengthen their relationship and tone down
the nationalist sentiments now straining it, a new Heritage Foundation
"Anti-American protests in South Korea are not new," says Balbina
Hwang, policy analyst for Northeast Asia in Heritage's Asian
Studies Center. "In fact, during the 50 years we've had a formal
relationship with South Korea, anti-American sentiments have flared
up quite often. So we shouldn't assume the current rift can't be
The problem today, Hwang says, lies in the different ways that
Americans and South Koreans view North Korea. The United States
sees the brutal regime in Pyongyang producing and proliferating
ballistic missiles-and vowing to reactivate its nuclear weapons
program-and sees a regional and global threat. Not so South Korea,
"South Koreans see a regime so desperate that it allowed millions
of its own citizens to starve to death," Hwang says. "They find it
hard to accept such a regime as a menacing threat to a country at
least 50 times stronger economically."
The Bush administration can help defuse the tension, Hwang says, by
making a greater effort to explain the rationale behind the U.S.
presence, which would underscore the fact that both nations benefit
from their long-standing security arrangement.
A well-mounted education campaign could dispel misperceptions on
both sides, such as the notion that the United States foots the
entire bill for stationing its 37,000 troops in South Korea-the
actual figure is closer to 50 percent. Or the idea that the
Americans who accidentally struck two South Korea girls last June
somehow escaped justice by being tried in a military court instead
of a civilian one. (South Korean troops have the same privilege,
U.S. officials also should work to reduce the "American footprint"
on the peninsula, Hwang says, while improving military training
opportunities. Refraining whenever possible from conducting
military training exercises near populated civilian areas would
also help, she adds.
South Korea can do its part, Hwang says, by ensuring that its
people understand the seriousness of the threat posed by North