Tensions between the United States and North Korea have heightened in recent weeks. Hanford Republican Congressman David Valadao recently returned from a trip to South Korea and Japan. He spoke with Valley Public Radio about his trip and what he learned.
Interview transcript highlights:
Q: Why did you make the trip to South Korea?
“I sit on the Appropriations Committee and one of my sub-committees is the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Committee. The fact is that we have about 50,000 troops in Japan and just under 30,000 in South Korea. There is obviously base construction. There is construction of a lot of different facilities that have to deal with our military forces there.”
Q: What is the feeling like on the ground in South Korea?
A: “At the border you can tell things are a little more tense with those who are actually there. And that would go for both the South Koreans and the American military. But throughout the community, in the evenings, or in the daytime at the hotel, I never felt like anybody was acting nervous at all. I felt everybody was pretty comfortable living their everyday lives.
There were things that you would notice. Like if you are driving on the freeway as we headed up toward the DMZ, there were structures above the freeway every so often that were prepared to basically blow the legs out with explosives, to allow those barriers to fall down and block the road in case of an invasion.
But aside from those being there, I didn’t get a sense that people were changing their everyday lives."
Q: Are U.S. military forces well equipped? Do they have what they need?
A: "I do believe we have a lot of resources there. I do believe we will be able to defend what we have to defend what we need to defend, or at least help in a fight. But the majority of the defense of the country is still South Korea's responsibility and Japan's responsibility. As far as the amount of troops we have there, I guess a lot of people don't really understand of all the troops stations there in South Korea who are part of this force, the U.S. only represents about 5 percent of those troops."
Q: Should we still be involved with a military presence in South Korea?
A: "Like I said, we have people there, but we represent a very small part of it. I think on a world stage, helping to deter away from another nuclear power, especially someone who literally has almost no friends left in the world. When they murder their own to keep themselves in power, it's just not a free society. I think there is a place for the U.S. to play a role in this to try to stop the spread of that type of dictatorship, and obviously and honestly a country like that having any sort of power.
I don’t believe the U.S. should be a police force for the (world) but that is why I think Secretary of State (Rex) Tillerson is doing the right thing in reaching out to China, trying to get them to play an active role in it. Trying to get them to put some pressure on the North Koreans to back away from any more of this type of rhetoric. Or back away from what they are trying to do with nuclear weapons."