Time for ‘Korea bashing’?

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Time for ‘Korea bashing’?


U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in before a Northeast Asia Security dinner at the U.S. Consulate General in Hamburg, Germany, on July 6. [AP/YONHAP]

In the neighborhood of Zhongnanhai, where China’s leadership live, President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan will meet a young couple, and the banquet will be reported by media around the world. The attendees are Ivanka Trump, daughter of the U.S. president, and her husband Jared Kushner.

The brainchild of this meeting is Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai. It is generally understood in Washington that Donald Trump’s civilian allies have abandoned him, his military allies will leave soon and only the family will remain in the end. Xi knows how close Trump is to his daughter and is using the meeting for several purposes. His primary goal is to liven up the mood for the Communist Party Congress on October 18.

However, diplomatic circles in Washington say there’s more beneath the surface, according to a Japanese Embassy source in D.C. A White House source said that Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had 11 telephone conversations since Trump’s inauguration, but in fact, Trump and Xi may talk more frequently, but the number of calls is not made public. As contacts with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are easily exposed to Seoul, China wants to use Kushner as a stealth messenger for a big deal between the United States and China over maverick North Korea.

Behind Kushner is former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kushner is getting advice from Kissinger. He believes that as talking to North Korea won’t lead to complete abandonment of its nuclear program, Washington and Beijing should agree on a prior big deal — China removing the North Korean regime and the United States withdrawing U.S. forces from South Korea. In short, Kissinger argues that big powers should work together without caring about South and North Korea.

In fact, a military option without shedding blood or negotiations with North Korea are impossible missions for Trump. While he brags loudly, he does not seem to have real options. Under such circumstances, North Korea’s recent sixth nuclear test can offer a good reason to change to the Kissinger plan.

It is South Korea that is cornered, not the United States. Trump tweeted, “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” The Washington Post wrote, “Trump . . . scolded the longtime U.S. ally.”

The Blue House emphasizes that the devastation of war should not be repeated on the Korean Peninsula. That’s totally true. If the Moon Jae-in administration really thought a war would be prompted by a preemptive strike by the United States, the Blue House should have prioritized building trust with Washington to prevent such a military action. But trust has drained away.

Abe could become Trump’s best friend after having been the first target for him to tame. The Blue House may be right that the number of phone calls between leaders is not that important. What really matters between leaders is mutual trust. Korea doesn’t have a figure like Abe or Cui Tiankai, who became close to the Trump family. It was naïve to be complacent about the alliance.

At the Korea-U.S. summit in June, Trump promised to visit Korea within the year. What will happen next? The so-called “Korea passing” — leaving Korea out of negotiations about the peninsula — could turn to “Korea bashing.” We must bolster the Korea-U.S.-Japan alliance, and shore up the cooperation of China and the international community. It is not too late.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 5, Page 30

*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kim Hyun-ki
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