Seoul has got a lot on its plate today. Is major concern is naturally the COVID-19 coronavirus and the issue of how not to let the first vivid victory over it slip away amid the regular parliamentary elections taking place in the country.
Another challenge is the National Assembly election itself, because ahead of it the South Korean opposition seriously attacked President Moon Jae-In's administration, accusing the country's leader of a vacillating weak policy towards North Korea, the country's economic decline, and guilt of many other unaddressed problems. These accusations by the opposition were backed by a sizeable portion of the population
The third, unexpected problem came like a punch in the gut from the key military ally and economic partner – the United States. The White House has once again stiffened its demands on the South Koreans, wishing them pay for the presence of American troops in the Korean territory a remarkably larger amount than appropriate for Seoul.
There have already been eight rounds of talks between representatives of Washington and Seoul on the issue. During them, the American side either agrees to tame its appetite and curb the scope of financial claims, or announces new figures unacceptable for Seoul.
At that, the American side bluntly argues to be seeking a "fair and equal" agreement with South Korea on defense spending distribution. They consider an agreement to this effect the only thing able to strengthen the bilateral military alliance and ensure everlasting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, as well as in the Pacific and Indian oceans.
At the same time, Washington is putting severe pressure on Seoul and forcing some four thousand South Koreans working at US bases in South Korea to go on unpaid leave. This problem, Seoul believes, could be solved if the US and Korea finally came to an agreement on paying the forced holidaymakers.
However, Washington said it did not intend to separately consider the issue of paying for the South Koreans' leave of absence, because such an approach would prevent the speedy conclusion of a comprehensive agreement on bilateral cooperation in the military sphere.
Moreover, the sum America unveiled to South Korea to pay for their military services on the Korean Peninsula for the current year made the South Korean leadership's eyes pop out: $5 billion. And this despite the fact that the South Korean side is ready to pay a mere $870 million.
So much for American-style "justice", so much for American-style "equality"!
Seoul certainly regards such requirements as off the scale. The phone conversation between Moon Jae-In and Donald Trump, during which the South Korean President reasoned his case with "reduced circumstances", did not help solve the problem.
But US Defense Secretary Mark Esper insisted last Monday that Seoul "can and should pay more" if South Korea was really concerned about its security and defense.
A virtually persistent pressure, such superficial inconsistency is very much like a blunt military blackmail. Anyway, this is what American diplomacy is all about for the time being. This affects not only South Korean, but also, for instance, European political and military allies of the United States.
Remarkably, all of this is happening amidst endless test and training launches of missiles and military exercises in the territory of North Korea.
The latest event on this count is a whole series of short-range projectile launches on April 14, which, according to early indications of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Republic of Korea, are anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). The launches were carried out from Munchon, Kangwon province, towards the Sea of Japan at a range of about 150 kilometers. The missiles fell offshore.
At the same time, after consultations between the US and South Korean military, these launches were concluded to be not a provocation andto pose no threat to either the US or South Korea.
Mind you, the North Koreans were reproved a little for this and advised to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and return to discussing denuclearization.
Pyongyang is certainly joyful about such a reaction. First, the North Koreans have once again successfully demonstrated the high-degree alert of their armed forces (despite any "coronaviruses"), as well as achievements in developing cutting edge weaponry. Secondly, they have fulfilled their immediate political task of appeasing Washington's military-oriented disposition and confirm Seoul in the status of a submissive American puppet.