President Donald Trump irks South Korea: Trade Deal, paying for THAAD, and Estrange Timing

President Donald Trump irks South Korea: Trade Deal, paying for THAAD, and Estrange Timing

Kanako Itamae and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The administration of President Trump is following the path of Barack Obama based on contradictory statements and confusing goals in the field of international relations. Indeed, senior political and military leaders in South Korea must be baffled by Trump’s timing on upping the ante in the area of trade. Similarly, with Trump being adamant that South Korea should pay for THAAD; then something is amiss in the corridors of power in Washington and Seoul. Therefore, at a time of heightened military and political posturing between the United States and North Korea, it seems that Trump also wants to take South Korea to task based on different issues.

President Trump deems the free trade deal with South Korea to be “horrible” based on favoring South Korea at the expense of America. In a similar vein, Trump insists that South Korea must pay for the THAAD missile system. Once more, America isn’t concerning itself with South Korea’s geopolitical reality because China is firmly opposed to THAAD.

Japan and South Korea – unlike North Korea – rely heavily on America and its military protection. At the same time, unlike North Korea, both Japan and South Korea are beholden to America’s knee-jerk reactions. Indeed, historically the nation of South Korea sacrificed its soldiers to support America in its war against Vietnam. Hence, until recently, Japan remained aloof from Washington’s military commitments but instead got wealthy on the deaths of the Vietnamese – and others – based on focusing on economic angles to war.

Currently, just over 28,000 American military forces are stationed in South Korea and this issue actually divides many Koreans. This notably applies to internal political convulsions and when America ups the ante and treads heavily on the independence of South Korea. Therefore, with Trump insisting on South Korea paying for THAAD and rebuking the current free trade reality between both nations – then, even pro-American forces in South Korea find the current strengthening of the Trump administration to be uneasy.

Trump said, “I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid. It’s a billion-dollar system… It’s phenomenal, shoots missiles right out of the sky.”

Moon Jae-in, the current front-runner to become the next president of South Korea, insists that South Korea isn’t beholden to either deploying or paying for the new THAAD missile system. Indeed, he is indicating that a decision should be taken once a new president is elected in South Korea. This, according to Moon, means that a political mandate should decide such an important issue. Also, he raised doubts about the posturing of America in relation to THAAD and ending the current free trade deal based on both parties being involved in a military security alliance.

Reuters reports, The front-runner in South Korea’s May 9 presidential election has called for a delay in THAAD deployment, saying the new Seoul administration should make a decision after gathering public opinion and more talks with Washington.”

According to Kim Ki-jung, a trusted adviser to Moon in foreign affairs, the position of the Trump administration isn’t realistic. After all, reports Kim, “Even if we purchase THAAD, its main operation would be in the hands of the United States… So purchasing it would be an impossible option. That was our topic when we were considering the options.”

Even if Trump makes valid statements in the area of a biased free trade agreement that benefits South Korea, is now the right time to be so vociferous? Especially with tensions between America and North Korea increasing – despite recent mixed signals from the Trump administration that hint at a possible solution. Of course, this is based on North Korea reigning in its weapons of mass destruction program and pulling back from its nuclear ambitions.

The timing of such a forceful approach by the Trump administration must shock overall, political and military leaders in South Korea, especially with upcoming elections in the offing after the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. Indeed, irrespective of how nations view North Korea, it appears that Trump is providing a “propaganda victory” for North Korea to further lambast South Korea with being a pawn of Washington. Hence, the estrange timing of Trump to lambast the free trade deal with South Korea – even if he is justified – because both nations are meant to be showing solidarity against the brinkmanship of North Korea.

Modern Tokyo News is part of the Modern Tokyo Times group

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