Changes aheadIn March 2001, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung was given an hour to pitch his agenda of engaging North Korea to a new U.S. president. Kim flew to Washington soon after the conservative Republican George W. Bush was sworn in.
Their first summit was a disaster. Bush interrupted his visitor time and again to express his hostility toward the Communist regime. In the follow-up press conference, Bush spoke skeptically and critically of the leadership in Pyongyang and its response to Seoul’s reconciliatory Sunshine Policy.
In the following year, in a State of the Union address, Bush labeled North Korea along with Iran and Iraq as the so-called axis of evil. Seoul’s ambitious Sunshine Policy was eclipsed by tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
I am recounting past episodes of the Seoul-Washington relationship to raise awareness that the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November can bring either enormous challenges or historical momentum for our country.
If ultra-right Republican nominee Donald Trump wins, the world will witness unprecedented protectionism and isolationism in Washington.
Considering Trump’s relentlessly hostile positions on trade surpluses with China and other countries, and his critical postures toward traditional Asian security allies Japan and South Korea, we cannot imagine what the diplomatic scene will be like under a Trump presidency.
The odds of Trump winning the race are small. Completely “red” states supporting the Republicans amounted to about a dozen of the 50 U.S. states over the last six presidential elections. The total number of U.S. Electoral College members in those states amount to about 100, far short of the 270 majority needed in the 538-member Electoral College to win a presidential race.
Democratic-leaning states in the last six presidential elections numbered 18, or 242 electoral votes. If Hillary Clinton, the favored Democratic candidate for the Nov. 8 election, secures all the votes in the Democratic column and wins one more from the three swing states in the general election — let’s say Florida, where 29 electoral votes are at stake — she is headed for the White House.
We must be fully ready for a new White House tenant’s foreign affairs and defense agendas. Many believe policy on North Korea will remain hard-line under the former secretary of state. Clinton condemned North Korea for a nuclear test in January and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to allies South Korea and Japan. She also backed additional sanctions against North Korea.
But as in previous administrations, issues related to North Korea and the Korean Peninsula will likely be pushed back in the priorities of U.S. foreign policy. Asian policies, including China and the overall policy for the Korea Peninsula, will be decided in the context of a global strategy that needs to be shaped first by the new administration. Kim Dae-jung failed to persuade George W. Bush in 2001 because he underestimated Bush’s global agenda.
President Park Geun-hye and her foreign affairs and security teams must reshape the alliance strategy with Washington based on the new administration’s global agenda and overall policy on Asia.
Despite strong words, Clinton’s global and Asia agenda will have been influenced by the liberal engagement policy of her husband Bill Clinton’s administration. From her addresses over the years, Clinton has been emphasizing the rising role of Asia in the 21st century and called for a new order in Asia based on multilateral institutions and rules. Although she might stay firm on international sanctions, Clinton’s administration could seek multilateral dialogue to solve North Korean issues. We must not repeat the mistake of the Kim Dae-jung administration with the new occupant of the White House.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 13, Page 35
*The author is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University.