|Navy officials salute during a send-off ceremony for the Republic of Korea Navy destroyer Kang Gam Chan, set for the 30th batch of the nation's anti-piracy Cheonghae unit, held at the ROK Navy Operational Command in Busan, Tuesday. The ROKNS Kang Gam Chan will be redeployed to the Strait of Hormuz after first arriving at its routine missions site Gulf of Aden, if the government decides to join the U.S.-led coalition to patrol the Hormuz. Yonhap|
Upon US request, the unit could be redeployed to the Strait of Hormuz
By Jung Da-min
The Republic of Korea Navy's Cheonghae unit, operating the country's first overseas anti-piracy mission in waters off Somalia, dispatched a fresh batch of troops to the Gulf of Aden Tuesday afternoon, raising expectation over the possibility of South Korea's official participation in the U.S.-led coalition to safeguard the Strait of Hormuz.
"The ROKNS Kang Gam Chan will be heading to the Gulf of Aden to carry out its routine mission," defense ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told reporters during a press briefing. "We are reviewing various options to protect the best interests of South Korean vessels," she added, hinting at the possibility of Seoul's joining the Hormuz mission.
The 30th batch of the anti-piracy unit including about 300 personnel aboard the 4,400-ton destroyer ROKNS Kang Gam Chan will arrive in the Gulf of Aden in about a month, according to Navy officials. They said even supposing a new decision is made on whether the unit will participate in the Hormuz mission, the Navy destroyer will first get to the Somali waters as it has to take over duties from the previous batch aboard another destroyer Dae Jo Yeong.
Experts said Seoul is likely to participate in the Hormuz mission, considering the pressure from the United States. During a recent trip to South Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked for South Korea to play a role in the coalition, according to defense ministry sources, but the ministry clarified it wasn't a formal request.
"The core of the issue is that U.S. President Donald Trump is pressing Seoul to participate in the Hormuz mission," said Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University.
"Secretary Esper has said the patrol coalition would consist of around 30 countries but only the United Kingdom and Israel have officially expressed willingness to participate while Germany and Japan said they would not. If Seoul makes its participation official, it would help the U.S. encourage other allied countries to participate," the professor Park added.
But there were concerns that the relationship between South Korea and Iran could deteriorate given South Korea's dependence on the import of Iranian oil. Iran made it clear earlier that it doesn't want South Korea to participate in the coalition. Seoul has been maintaining solid relations with Iran, importing much of its oil from the Middle Eastern country before it was banned by U.S. sanctions taking effect in May.
"If needed, President Moon Jae-in should send his special envoy to Iran to explain that Seoul has no other options on the matter and joining the Hormuz mission does not mean military collusion," he said.
|The Republic of Korea Navy destroyer Kang Gam Chan departs a port at the ROK Navy Operational Command in Busan, Tuesday. Yonhap|
Kim Geun-sik, a political science professor at Kyungnam University, said Seoul broadly agreed with the United States to participate in the Hormuz mission.
"The government would seek to get offset benefits it could get from the U.S. side by participating in the Hormuz mission, as it needs help from Washington in other issues including the denuclearization negotiations with North Korea."