Executive summary:From August 22 to September 1, South Korea and the United States will hold the joint military exercise “Ulchi Freedom Shield” (UFS) in the second half of the year. Before the exercise, an anti-US rally broke out in Seoul, South Korea, demanding the suspension of joint military exercises and “dissolution of the South Korea-US alliance and withdrawal of US troops stationed in South Korea.”
From August 22 to September 1, South Korea and the United States will hold the joint military exercise “Ulchi Freedom Shield” (UFS) in the second half of the year. Before the exercise, an anti-US rally broke out in Seoul, South Korea, demanding the suspension of joint military exercises and “dissolution of the South Korea-US alliance and withdrawal of US troops stationed in South Korea.”
Since the new South Korean government came to power, the two Koreas have been in a rather special relationship. Why did the South Korean government insist on holding joint military exercises regardless of public opinion? What impact will this military exercise have on the Korean Peninsula?
The South Korean-US military exercises are more targeted than ever,
Rising tensions on the Korean peninsula?
According to a work report submitted by the South Korean Ministry of Defense, the Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) is planned to be carried out in three steps: a crisis management exercise, a first-stage exercise (attack and defense), and a second-stage exercise (counterattack). The crisis management exercise has been launched since the 16th of this month for a period of 4 days.
Although the South Korean Joint Staff Headquarters said that the “Ulji Freedom Shield” is a “routine defensive exercise” held every year, Wang Sheng, an expert on the inter-Korean issue and a professor at the Department of International Politics at Jilin University, pointed out in an interview with a reporter from Chinanews.com. “The scale and intensity of the South Korea-US joint military exercise, as well as the targeting of North Korea, are stronger than before.”
Su Hao, director of the Center for Strategy and Peace Studies of China Foreign Affairs University, also believes that since the new South Korean government came to power, the ROK and North Korea have been in a relatively special relationship, and the high profile of the new South Korean leader after he came to power, “actually changed Moon Jae-in ( The government) coordinated a policy of de-escalating the situation on the Korean peninsula and directly defined North Korea as an ‘enemy’. This caused dissatisfaction on the North Korean side.”
According to the Korean Central News Agency, on the 17th, North Korea conducted a weapons test at the “Golden Star Bridge” in Anju, South Pyongan Province.
Su Hao noted that, unlike the previous “South Korea-US military exercise – North Korean missile test”, this year’s North Korean missile test took place before the official military exercise, which “further escalated” the severity of the situation.
Wang Sheng said, “After the South Korea-US military exercise, North Korea often has some tougher measures, because it has always responded to toughness with super toughness.”
People rallied against the US and anti-military exercises,
Why did the Yin Xiyue government insist on going its own way?
In addition to attracting strong opposition from North Korea, this joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States also caused dissatisfaction among the South Korean people.
On August 13, local time, an anti-US rally broke out in the center of Seoul, South Korea. According to South Korean police estimates, at least 6,000 people participated that day. The rally held balloons or banners such as “oppose war exercise” and “oppose the United States“, demanding the suspension of the planned South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise, and calling for “dissolution of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and withdrawal of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea”.
South Korea’s “Central Daily” said that some participants at the rally said, “What should disappear (from South Korea) is the coercion of the United States and the subordination of the Yin Xiyue government.”
There are also South Korean media reports that Yang Kyung-soo, chairman of the “National Federation of Democratic Labor Associations”, said at the rally that day, “The government of Yoon Seok-hye, which is trying to push this country into the flames of war, cannot be tolerated.”
Su Hao believes that such a high-profile military exercise against North Korea “obviously makes some people in South Korea who want to maintain peace and promote the easing of relations between the North and the South on the Korean Peninsula to be seriously dissatisfied, so this level and scale of protests have arisen.”
Wang Sheng said that the South Korean people have seen the historical experience and the current global situation, especially the situation between Ukraine, Russia and NATO, and are worried that the Korean Peninsula will become a “bridgehead of confrontation” and geopolitical conflicts will occur. Once this happens, “the damage to South Korea and the neighboring countries will be the greatest, but the United States will benefit the most.”
When the South Korean people strongly oppose the holding of the South Korea-US military exercise, why does the government of Yin Xiyue insist on going its own way? What is the source of the deviation between the public and the government’s attitude towards military exercises? There are roughly three reasons.
First of all, it is inseparable from the diplomatic direction of the Yin Xiyue government.
Wang Sheng pointed out that the current South Korean ruling party, the National Power Party, has a completely different diplomatic direction from the previous Common Democratic Party.
Su Hao also said that Yin Xiyue belongs to a “political conservative and right-leaning politician” and that he “proclaims himself to be a political amateur without much political experience, relying more on some of his advisers – and his circle of advisers is also very small. His classmates and his old social relationships are relatively tough conservative forces.”
Secondly, this is also related to the inextricable economic connection between South Korea and the United States.
Wang Sheng pointed out that after the financial crisis in 1997, the shares of many large Korean companies were controlled by Western countries, “involuntarily”.
At the same time, “because the current ruling party is a vested interest in South Korea, and many of its interests lie in the United States and are inextricably linked with the United States.” Therefore, there are many pro-American people in the Yin Xiyue government.
The third is the unavoidable issue of the “Korea-US alliance”.
Previously, during the Moon Jae-in administration, in order to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, South Korea and the United States suspended joint military exercises, and North Korea also suspended nuclear and missile activities. Wang Sheng pointed out, “The reason why the (military exercise) is resumed now is mainly because after the new government of Yin Xiyue came into power, it strengthened the alliance between the United States and South Korea, and worked with the United States to improve the ability to deter North Korea.”
Su Hao pointed out, “After Yin Xiyue came to power, he immediately leaned on the United States in a high-profile manner to conduct some military coordination with the United States, even with NATO, and actually included South Korea in the United States‘ military alliance system in the Asia-Pacific region, even with Japan. Carrying out military trilateral coordination will naturally lead to great disgust among the Korean people.”
On the 17th local time, Yin Xiyue ushered in 100 days of inauguration as South Korean President. In the opening remarks of the 100-day inauguration press conference held at the Yongsan Presidential Palace in Seoul, Yin Xiyue said that in the future, she will continue to base itself on all goals and directions for the people, and carefully observe the sentiments and opinions of the people. And the dangerous consequences and public opinion deviations brought about by this joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States do not know whether it can sound the alarm for the government.
Original title: Why did South Korea hold South Korea-US joint military exercises despite public opposition?