Korea abandonedDuring his first summit meeting with the president of China, Donald Trump at one point joked, “We’ve had a long discussion already, and so far I’ve gotten nothing,” as if he were a hungry boxer. It seemed rude for a comment coming from the U.S. president, but I was reminded that he had pledged to make America safe and give jobs to the American people. Trump appeared to have an obsession with safety and jobs.
In contrast, Xi Jinping’s approach was relatively refined. “We have a thousand reasons to get China-U.S. relations right, and not one reason to spoil the China-U.S. relationship,” Xi said. The comment appeared to be reasonable, but it felt bitter to think about China’s practice of completely changing its face when its interests, no matter how small, are harmed.
In the end, Trump won big. He agreed with Xi to resolve the trade imbalance between the two countries in the next 100 days. Xi, too, won his goal of creating measures to prevent military conflict in the South China Sea. The two countries traded economy and security in the negotiation.
We, however, are still in trouble. North Korea’s nuclear arms program and planned deployment of the United States’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield were revealed as a contradiction that cannot be resolved. If Trump and Xi fail to resolve the issues, there will be no answer.
We can hope that some change in the security situation will also change the core interests of the United States and China. Some of these shifts might include Kim Jong-un threatening China with missiles. Some say it is unimaginable, but unimaginable things do happen in our world. It is also possible that Kim could cooperate with Russia to start a lonely fight against the United States and China.
For South Korea, there are also some possible changes, and they are more realistic. One is a scenario that the National Assembly will vote against Thaad deployment once a new president takes office. Since the Democratic Party and People’s Party formally oppose Thaad deployment, it is feasible. It will be a future where the anti-American ideals of the Thaad protesters and advocates of independent peace will be realized. The new president might declare a reboot of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tours and propose a summit with Kim. Then, South Korea will be seen as pro-China diplomatically, and China will stop its retaliation against Thaad.
But we must not forget about the price we have to pay. We will become a violator of UN resolutions that have meticulously stated sanctions against Pyongyang. We will face condemnation for giving cash to support the North’s nuclear and missile programs. We will have nothing to say if Trump declares termination of the Korea-U.S. alliance. American troops will leave the South, and U.S. defense of East Asia will be moved from the DMZ to the west coast of Japan.
One could criticize these predictions as irresponsible, but unfortunately, it was Trump and Xi who decided to act irresponsibly by doing nothing about the Korean Peninsula. The United States will act unilaterally. Trump will repeat what he said to Xi in Florida to the next administration of South Korea.
A presidential front-runner said the United States must consult with us before making any responses. But that will not happen. If we break the promise to allow Thaad deployment, the Trump administration will think South Korea has failed to perform its duty as an ally.
The presidential candidates must awake from their dreams. Our short-sighted play of independence is being ridiculed by the international community. The candidates must appeal to the voters that the Korea-U.S. alliance must be bolstered, and the public must unite to stand up to China. When you try to have it both ways on security issues, you will be abandoned by both the United States and China.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 10, Page 30
*The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.