Sohn frets Trump’s Korea agenda

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Sohn frets Trump’s Korea agenda

Korean politicians are increasingly expressing anxiety as U.S. President Donald Trump focused only on a “Buy American and hire American” message in his inauguration speech, setting the tone for his administration.

“The ‘America First’ agenda pushed by President Donald Trump gave me chills,” said independent politician Sohn Hak-kyu, a former chief of the opposition Democratic Party, on his reflections after attending the inauguration of the new president on Capital Hill in Washington on Friday.

Sohn, a former Gyeonggi governor and presidential hopeful, upon returning from his Washington trip to the Incheon International Airport on Sunday afternoon, immediately shared a photo with reporters of the protests against the Trump presidency that took place on Main Street in Washington on Friday.

“It was loud outside my hotel from early in the morning on the day of the inauguration,” recollected Sohn, “and when I looked out, it was anti-Trump demonstrators who had taken to the streets, marching along. On the plaza were police and soldiers wearing bulletproof vests, as well as armored vehicles, and tear gas was even used to suppress the protesters. And I thought, ah, this division will be a much bigger problem.”

Sohn recalled how the crowd cheered when Trump declared in his inaugural speech, “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.”

“However, there was no mention of his Asia-Pacific policy or Europe policy, nor of American welfare,” Sohn pointed out. “It is questionable whether [the United States] can dominate the world with such isolationism. Trump’s speech was very short and in fact did not say much besides ‘America First.’”

Such an “America first” policy extends to diplomacy, trade and even the security arena, and Seoul has to brace for demands by Washington.

Sohn advised that Korea has to “handle in an even more dignified and confident manner” possible requests by the Trump administration for the renegotiation of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA), or for Seoul to pay more to keep U.S. troops here.

He added that following the Korea-U.S. FTA, Korea invested some $31.8 billion in the United States and enabled the creation of 18,300 jobs, and that the United States’ service industry profited $10 billion.

Sohn headed for Washington on Thursday, accompanied by his wife. He previously met with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, at the end of last month to discuss the Korea-U.S. alliance.

A group of Korean lawmakers of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee including the Democratic Party’s Reps. Shim Jae-kwon and Kim Kyung-hyup, People’s Party’s Lee Tae-kyu and Saenuri’s Yoon Young-seok also returned on Sunday after heading to Washington on Jan. 16. Korean Ambassador to the United States Ahn Ho-young also attended Trump’s inauguration ceremony on behalf of Seoul.

“When I saw the crowd go fanatic over Trump, who only laid out a ‘Buy American, Hire American’ message, I got worried,” said Rep. Shim, chair of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. “We confirmed that we will have the task of having to honestly convey our opinions in the process of negotiating Korean Peninsula policies.”

The group of lawmakers spent the past two weeks meeting with American assemblymen and figures linked with Trump to talk about the Korea-U.S. alliance, the tasks on the Korean Peninsula, the bilateral FTA and other economic issues.

“The key figures in the new Trump administration have a more fixed perception of the Korea-U.S. alliance than the [Barack] Obama administration,” Saenuri Rep. Yoon said, “so as we strengthen Korea-U.S. cooperation, we will have to watch over any changes in the United States’ basic position.”

BY CHA SE-HYEON, KANG TAE-HWA AND SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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