US Military Moving Out of Seoul, Good or Bad?
by Dave Bonner
The US government announced that they are relocating their forces outside of Seoul. They have been talking about this for years now and finally it has come to pass, but who really wants this?
Korean citizens have been protesting outside US military installations for many years now. Every now and then there has been an incident where a GI has committed a crime, or they are protesting against the US’s policy on a certain issue. I’m sure there were many Koreans happy that they are moving to Pyeong Taek (about an hour south of Seoul) but what about Itaewon and Yongsan-gu where the GI’s and US personnel and their dependants have made their homes for the past 50 years. How will the move affect the local economy?
The Yongsan garrison
has made Itaewon a shopping hub in Seoul. Most of the consumers are
Americans from the army base. Of
course you have
Chinese and Japanese tourists, but the GI’s live here. They shop
and eat and drink at the bars and restaurants in Itaewon. When they leave,
what will happen to those bars, restaurants and shops? With the US dollar
being so strong in the past, it was quite economical to shop in Itaewon.
What are left are the Africans and Central Asians like, Bangladesh, Sri
Lanka, Filipino’s, and they are mostly working in the factories
around Seoul. They don’t have the buying power that the US soldiers
and their families have.
The US army also has to house the US civilians that are contract workers. They cannot live on post so they must rent apartments surrounding the base. The US government pays high rental fees to local Korean landlords and usually pays in US dollars as well. The Korean landlords will never be able to charge the same rates to locals. Many landlords will lose thousands of dollars as their stable influx of Americans will now be renting in Pyeong Taek.
Now the liberals in Seoul will be happy with the move. Liberals, I mean pro-Roh party members from the newly formed Uri Party and some of the former ruling party, the MDP. While the conservatives are completely against the move, the GNP party leans more towards being pro-American while the liberalists would prefer to be more independent of the States.
I am neither for nor against the move since it has no affect on me, but there is one concern that some people have. People in the conservative wing believe that if the US pulls its troops out of Seoul and off the DMZ and relocate them further south, then they will be out of harms way, if the US strikes against North Korea in the future. By the US agreeing suddenly to move their troops, many people believe there could be more trouble on the peninsular.
Honestly though, I don’t see the US moving their troops out of Seoul for at least 10 to 15 years, if ever. The timing was right to announce this proposed move. With the Iraq war, the North Korea nuclear issue and the deployment of South Korean troops to Iraq, there is a greater feeling of anti-American sentiment in the country. By saying that they will pull their troops out of Seoul by 2007, it appears that the US is following Seoul’s wishes.
Also, the Korean government said that they would move by 2007, but at the site in Pyeong Taek where the US will base their troops, there’s no infrastructure. There’s just an empty field there. How is it possible for the US Government to build a whole military base in less then 3 years? Quite frankly it’s impossible. What you might see is that a few soldiers will move in 2007 and the government will announce that the process has started, but there’s no way that they will be able to move all their troops, dod civilians, and dependants.
So the concerns that I mentioned before about Itaewon, might never come to fruition until much later. So if you are planning to come to Seoul within the next 10 years, I’m sure you will still see Yongsan Garrison as busy as a bee.
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