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SEOUL — The 8th U.S. Army commander spoke about the U.S.-South Korean alliance and its economic impact during a professional development seminar sponsored by Seoul’s Gangnam district on Wednesday.

Army Lt. Gen. David P. Valcourt told attendees — including Gangnam mayor Maeng Jung-ju and South Korean war hero Paik Sun-yup — that he wasn’t there to speak as a trained economist.

He would instead offer “perspective from the lens of a very senior officer” on his third peninsula tour in more than 20 years.

Discussing the alliance, he said, many people often think only of the military aspect. Those people might look at the shrinking U.S. military presence and “say we were in deep trouble,” he said.

But the visible reduction of U.S. forces during a planned transition doesn’t reflect any fissure between the countries, he said.

He said he’s watched the South Korean economy grow exponentially during his tours. During his first assignment to South Korea from 1986 to 1987 — he served north of Seoul, near Munsan — he said he remembers watching farmers labor from dawn to dusk, planting rice by hand.

But since then, South Korea’s economy has rocketed, he said, and the country has hosted the Asian Games, the Olympics and the World Cup.

South Korea now has the world’s 10th largest economy, he said.

Much of that was the benefit of the security provided by the U.S.-South Korea alliance, Valcourt said.

“Businesses don’t take risk where there is no security,” he said.

Part of it also is “selfish reasons” for America’s own national interests, he said, adding that 25 percent of the U.S. economy deals with Asia.

He also said the ongoing transformation of U.S. military forces here in no way signals a weakened alliance.

Valcourt compared the alliance to a marriage, saying, “there will be times that we have disagreements,” but “it is about compromise sometimes,” whether political or economical.


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