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The new era of the U.S. Forces Korea base in Pyeongtaek

Posted July. 12, 2017 07:16,   

Updated July. 12, 2017 07:33

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Pyeongtaek Port, one of South Korea’s three national ports along with Busan New Port and Gwangyang Port, is a main hub of logistics between South Korea and China. The portion of freight to and from China accounts for nearly 90 percent of container shipments handled at the port. Liányúngǎng in Jiangsu Province, which is directly linked by ferry from Pyeongtaek Port, is the starting point of Trans-China Railroad that connects all the way to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. From South Korea’s perspective, Pyeongtaek Port is the starting point of the shortest-distance railway logistics route that links China and Europe.

The U.S. Eighth Army has relocated its base to Camp Humphreys at the township of Paengseong in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday. When 35 U.S. military units from across the nation, seven training ranges, and 513 buildings are completed by 2020 in an area five times the size of Yeouido in Seoul, the camp will become the largest U.S. military base overseas. The underground bunker operation center is the central command that will direct combats in the event of armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The center can withstand nuclear attacks, and is directly linked with the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii and the Pentagon in Washington. Now that the U.S. Forces Korea has been relocated to south of the Han River from the heart of the Korean capital, the “trip wire” mechanism in which the U.S. naturally engages in the event that Seoul is under attack has been lifted. As a result, the concept of the U.S. Forces Korea’s operation will also change. The U.S. troops stationed in South Korea have been scaled down due to reduction of the troops here, but the U.S. Forces Korea’s mobility has increased not only on the Korean Peninsula but across Northeast Asia due to clustering of U.S. forces that were previously scattered nationwide to an area near Pyeongtaek Port, Pyeongtaek Station and Osan Airbase.

China will feel more uncomfortable than any other countries about the relocation of the U.S. troops in South Korea to the Pyeongtaek Base. The U.S. has upgraded the U.S. Forces Korea to assume the role of frontier troops meant to keep China at bay in line with Washington’s 2004 plan to reshuffle the U.S. troops stationed overseas. Given that Chinese fleets cannot freely navigate into the Pacific as long as the U.S. military has its presence there, the Pyeongtaek Base is effectively the world’s largest frontier base for the U.S. military designed to counter China.

If Pyeongseong's 30,000 population, 40,000 U.S. troops and their families and other inflows of populations are combined, a new city comprising 150,000 residents will emerge around the Pyeongtaek compound. A festival to celebrate the relocation of the U.S. military base was planned but has been put on hold due to threat of anti-America protest. In the past, when violent demonstration against the relocation of the military bases took place that led to intervention by the police and the military, President Roh Moo-hyun lamented, by saying, “Is the Republic of Korea a country where only you are living?” If President Moon Jae-in visits the Pyeongtaek Base in person, he will effectively demonstrate his commitment to the South Korea-U.S. alliance that is stronger than any words.