US troop deployment stoking peninsula tensions: experts
Updated: 2014-01-09 00:25
By ZHAO YANRONG (China Daily)
Washington to add 800 soldiers, plus 40 tanks, to 28,000 stationed in ROK
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman (center) meets DPRK basketball player Ri Myung-hun in Pyongyang on Tuesday. Rodman went to Pyongyang for an exhibition game on Wednesday, the birthday of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un. Kim Kwang-Hyon / Associated Press
The decision by the United States to deploy additional military forces, including troops and tanks, to the Republic of Korea will only contribute to heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, according to Chinese observers.
The US said on Tuesday that it will send 800 more soldiers and about 40 Abrams main battle tanks and other armored vehicles to the ROK on Feb 1, citing the need to reaffirm its support for the security of the ROK.
"This addition of forces to Korea is part of the rebalance to the Pacific. It's been long planned and is part of our enduring commitment to security on the Korean Peninsula," said US Army Colonel Steve Warren, who is a Pentagon spokesman.
The battalion of troops, M1A2 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles from the 1st US Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas, will begin a nine-month deployment.
Warren said the personnel would remain for nine months but on departing would leave their equipment behind to be used by follow-on rotations of US forces.
However, observers in China have warned that the deployment may lead to increased tensions.
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea definitely will get upset by more US troops being deployed to the peninsula, and the traditional US-ROK joint military exercises in March will also challenge the patience of Kim jong-un," said Zhang Liangui, an expert on Korean studies at the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
"Sending more troops to the region shows that the US and ROK both take the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula seriously," he said.
The deployment of additional US troops comes when the ROK and US have been beefing up their forces in line with the ongoing US military pivot to East Asia.
In his New Year's speech last week, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un warned the US of a "massive nuclear disaster" if war breaks out again on the peninsula.
US Secretary of State John Kerry met ROK Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in Washington on Tuesday and stated the US position on the DPRK's nuclear weapons.
Kerry said the US and the ROK "stand very firmly united" on opposition to the DPRK's "destabilizing nuclear and ballistic missile programs and proliferation activities".
Wang Junsheng, a researcher in East Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said deploying more troops to the ROK could be a warning to the DPRK that it should not try to challenge the US.
"The deployment will also enhance the ROK's confidence in the US-ROK alliance, since Seoul has become an important strategic point for the US' pivot strategy," he said.
But if the US really wanted improve the security situation in the peninsula, they should try to ease the tension in the region by communicating with the DPRK, instead of shipping over more tanks, Wang said.
The ROK's defense ministry said on Tuesday that the US army will bolster defense on the peninsula as part of a rotation of forces, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
"The US Department of Defense is consistently pushing for rotational deployments of its forces across the world to meet requirements of commanders," said ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok, adding that the deployment of the US Army's mechanized infantry battalion to the ROK seems to be part of this policy.
The US has some 28,000 troops based in the ROK, which has remained technically at war with the DPRK since the Korean War (1950-53) ended in a stalemate.
Wednesday was Kim Jong-un's 31st birthday, and former US NBA star Dennis Rodman took part in an exhibition game marking Kim's birthday, along with a team of retired professional basketball players in Pyongyang, Xinhua reported.