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South Korea – United States relations: Map


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South Korea–United States relations have been most extensive since 1948, when the United Statesmarker helped establish capitalism in South Koreamarker and fought on its UN-sponsored side in the Korean War (1950–1953). During the subsequent four decades, South Korea experienced tremendous economic, political and military growth, and significantly reduced US dependency. From Roh Tae-woo's administration to Roh Moo Hyun's administration, South Korea sought to establish an American partnership, which has made the Seoulmarker-Washingtonmarker relationship subject to some strains. However, relations between the United States and South Korea have greatly strengthened under the Lee Myung-bak administration. At the 2009 G-20 London summit, U.S. President Barack Obama called South Korea "one of America's closest allies and greatest friends."

Historical background

In the mid-19th century, Korea closed its borders to Western trade. In the General Sherman Incident, Korean forces attacked a U.S. merchant ship sent to negotiate a trade treaty and killed its crew, after it defied instructions from Korean officials. A U.S. retribution attack, the Sinmiyangyo, followed.

Korea and the U.S. ultimately established trade relations in 1882. Relations soured again when the U.S. negotiated peace in the Russo-Japanese War. In 1905, Japanmarker persuaded the U.S. to accept Korea as part of Japan's sphere of influence, and the U.S. did not protest when Japan annexed Korea five years later. Korean nationalists petitioned the U.S. to support their cause at the Versailles Treaty conference under Woodrow Wilson's principle of national self-determination, without success.

The U.S. divided Korea after World War II along the 38th parallel, intending it as a temporary measure. However, the breakdown of negotiations between the United States and People's Republic of Chinamarker prevented a reunification.


Diplomats in both countries maintained that U.S. Military forces should remain in South Korea as long as Seoul wanted them. Not only did 94 percent of South Koreans (at its highest) support the presence of the forces, but even the vocal opposition parties favoured a continued U.S. Military presence in South Korea. Stability in the peninsula, they argued, had been maintained because strong Seoul-Washington military cooperation deterred further aggression.

Other policymakers felt that American troops should gradually be leaving the country. They argued that South Korea in the late 1980s was more capable of coping with North Koreamarker which has a far smaller economy. In Washington, meanwhile, an increasing number of United States politicians advocated troop withdrawal for budgetary reasons. The consultations on restructuring the Washington-Seoul security relationship held during Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney's February 1990 visit to South Korea marked the beginning of the change in status of U.S. forces - from a leading to a supporting role in the country's defense.

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