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South Korea mulls visa on arrival for Indians

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New Delhi: South Korea is mulling visa on arrival for Indians after its nationals were given a fast-track electronic travel permit by New Delhi earlier this year. South Koreans account for a fifth of e-visa recipients for India.

South Korea’s Ambassador to India Joon-gyu Lee said Seoul was closely looking at a scheme for Indians similar to that India extends to their nationals. “While doing so we will do our best to improve the visa issuing process to facilitate and speed it up,” he said.

India’s decision on e-visa for South Koreans has seen an exponential rise in visitors from that country. “I believe that the visa-on-arrival scheme provided for our citizens is contributing a lot in increasing the number of Korean tourists into India,” the envoy said.

The Indian government extends its electronic travel authorization (ETA) scheme to 76 countries. Official data shows that in January, inflow of tourists from the Republic of Korea constituted 18.26 per cent of the total arrivals using the facility.

Its nationals were its second largest users after the US, Russia, Ukraine and Australia.

Data with the Indian embassy in Seoul, shows that more than 100,000 Koreans visited India in 2013 to mainly visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, Jaipur and various Buddhist sites. Agra, Jaipur and Delhi form what is called the golden triangle of Indian tourism, accounting for 40 per cent of tourists.

“The visa-on-arrival has definitely eased the travelling for South Korean nationals. Of course, a similar scheme for Indians will create an impact in the inflow of tourists to Korea,” said Byungsun Lee, director with the Korea Tourism Office in India..

Lately, there has been a 20 per cent increase in Indian visitors to South Korea. As per official data, 147,736 Indians went to the East Asian nation in 2014, up from 123,235 visitors in the year before. (IANS)

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‘It Has Been A Very Long Process, But Ultimately A Very Successful Process’: South Korea Agrees to Pay More for U.S. Troops

U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in have lunch with troops at U.S. military installation Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Nov. 7, 2017.

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U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in have lunch with troops at U.S. military installation Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Nov. 7, 2017. VOA

Officials signed a short-term agreement Sunday to boost South Korea’s contribution toward the upkeep of U.S. troops on the peninsula, after a previous deal lapsed amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for the South to pay more.

The new deal must still be approved by South Korea’s parliament, but it would boost its contribution to 1.03 trillion won ($890 million) from 960 billion won in 2018.

Unlike past agreements, which lasted for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months.

“It has been a very long process, but ultimately a very successful process,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters before another official from the foreign ministry initialed the agreement.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Timothy Betts, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary and Senior Adviser for Security Negotiations and Agreements in the U.S. Department of State, shake hands before their meeting at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, S
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Timothy Betts, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary and Senior Adviser for Security Negotiations and Agreements in the U.S. Department of State, shake hands before their meeting at Foreign Ministry. VOA

Domestic criticism

While acknowledging lingering domestic criticism of the new deal and the need for parliamentary approval, Kang said the response had “been positive so far.”

U.S. State Department senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements, Timothy Betts, met Kang before signing the agreement on behalf of the United States, and told reporters the money represented a small but important part of South Korea’s support for the alliance.

“The United States government realizes that South Korea does a lot for our alliance and for peace and stability in this region,” he said.

US soldiers salute during a grand opening ceremony, June 29, 2018, of the new headquarters building for the United Nations Command and US Forces Korea at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek.
US soldiers salute during a grand opening ceremony, June 29, 2018, of the new headquarters building for the United Nations Command and US Forces Korea at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. VOA

28,500 US troops

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The allies had struggled to reach a breakthrough despite 10 rounds of talks since March, amid Trump’s repeated calls for a sharp increase in South Korea’s contribution.

South Korean officials have said they had sought to limit its burden to $1 trillion won and make the accord valid for at least three years.

A senior South Korean ruling party legislator said last month that negotiations were deadlocked after the United States made a “sudden, unacceptable” demand that Seoul pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year.

But both sides worked to reach a deal to minimize the impact of the lapse on South Korean workers on U.S. military bases, and focus on nuclear talks ahead of a second U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul officials said.

The disagreement had raised the prospect that Trump could decide to withdraw at least some troops from South Korea, as he has in other countries like Syria. But on Sunday, South Korean officials told Yonhap news agency that the United States had affirmed it would not be changing its troop presence.

Trump said in his annual State of the Union address to Congress he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam, following their unprecedented meeting in June in Singapore.

Military exercises suspended

After the June summit, Trump announced a halt to joint military exercises with South Korea, saying they were expensive and paid for mostly by the United States.

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Major joint exercises have been suspended, but some small-scale drills have continued, earning rebukes from North Korea’s state media in recent months.

About 70 percent of South Korea’s contribution covers the salaries of some 8,700 South Korean employees who provide administrative, technical and other services for the U.S. military.

Late last year, the U.S. military warned Korean workers on its bases they might be put on leave from mid-April if no deal was agreed. (VOA)