S.Korea Weighing Military "Options" To Protect Its Shipping In Persian Gulf

South Korea is denying a Yonhap news agency report which said US Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a formal request to South Korea to send troops to join a proposed US-led maritime force in the Strait of Hormuz to protect international tankers sailing near Iran, according to Bloomberg. Esper is said to have directly appealed to Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo during a meeting in South Korea. 

Seoul is said to be considering "various options," according to Reuters, since South Korean vessels frequent the strait. Despite Seoul officials now downplaying the story, a prior Reuters report detailed early this week

The Maekyung business newspaper, citing an unidentified senior government official, said South Korea had decided to send the anti-piracy Cheonghae unit operating in waters off Somalia, possibly along with helicopters.

...“It is obvious that we have to protect our ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, isn’t it? So we’re considering various possibilities,” deputy ministry spokesman Ro Jae-cheon told a regular news briefing on Monday.

Illustrative file photo

The current mixed messaging coming out of Seoul, however, suggests plans could be stalled, possibly as official wait and see if the White House plans for a global force gets off the ground.

Meanwhile the only European country to enthusiastically jump on board the US administration's joint patrol plan has been the United Kingdom, with Germany and France trying to distance themselves, even as they attempt to form a European-led maritime initiative. At the moment France, Japan, and India have said they are undecided. 

Earlier this week it was revealed that China also, to the surprise of many observers, is actually mulling a reported invitation to join the proposed US-led maritime coalition to protect oil shipping lanes in the Gulf following Iran's military confirming it has seized three foreign tankers this summer.

“If there happens to be a very unsafe situation we will consider having our navy escort our commercial vessels,” the Chinese ambassador to the UAE Ni Jian told Reuters in Abu Dhabi. “We are studying the U.S. proposal on Gulf escort arrangements,” China’s embassy later confirmed

Again, it's likely that authorities in Seoul are waiting to see if European countries join but also Beijing's stance regarding an international coalition ensuring the safety of the vital gulf waterway, before actually deploying its own troops and naval assets.