South Korea has agreed to a 13.9% increase in its contribution to the cost of hosting nearly 30,000 American troops on its soil for 2021, under a cost-sharing agreement with Washington.
The increase — the biggest annual rise in nearly two decades — will take South Korea’s contribution this year to 1.18 trillion won (1.03 billion dollars).
Jeong Eun-bo, South Korea’s lead negotiator, said on Wednesday that the agreement with Washington “resolved the longest-ever vacuum that had lasted about a year and three months.”
“It provided a chance to reaffirm the importance of the alliance and the need for stable stationing of US Forces Korea,” he added.
South Korea and the United States reached the deal to maintain the US military presence in the East Asian country on Monday.
The “Special Measures Agreement” is a six-year deal and will replace the previous arrangement that expired at the end of 2019.
There are about 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea for what Washington calls deterrence against North Korea.
Seoul currently pays Washington about 920 million dollars a year.
Negotiations for a new agreement stalled when former US president Donald Trump demanded a total of five billion dollars from South Korea and rejected Seoul’s offer to pay 13 percent more than before.
South Korea’s annual defense budget increase was 5.4% this year.
In the last big increase in its contribution, South Korea paid 17% more than the previous year in 2003, according to data from a Defense Ministry white paper.
The latest agreement came as Seoul and Washington kicked off their annual military exercises on Monday, with a low level of physical troop involvement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The joint military exercises, which are scheduled to run through March 18, annually draw opposition from peace groups in South Korea and around the world.