Notes for a summitU.S. President Donald Trump is visiting South Korea on Nov. 7. With the Korean Peninsula at a critical juncture, we have high hopes for the presidential summit, and as we prepare for the meeting, we need to calmly review the circumstances around us.
The international system is transitioning to a G-2 rivalry between the United States and China. Former President Barack Obama began his term with an unemployment rate of over 10 percent and had to focus on reviving the domestic economy. He needed China’s cooperation on international issues. As the United States lost influence, it became easier for China to deal with the United States.
Now that the U.S. economy has made its recovery, the Trump administration is pursuing policies to prevent China’s rise, though sophisticated strategies are lacking. As Xi Jinping begins his second term as president in China, the competition between the two countries is accelerating.
The United States is pursuing an air-sea battle concept, joint operational access concept and third offset strategy to respond to China’s access-denial strategy. The Trump administration’s increased defense budget is to meant to support these military strategies. By 2020, the United States plans to deploy 60 percent of air and naval strength in the Asia-Pacific region. Washington’s third offset strategy will enhance conventional deterrence and strives to increase the gap in defense technology with China.
Korea’s neighbors are pursuing aggressive foreign policies on the basis of domestic stability. Xi wants to restore his country’s relationship with South Korea in response to the United States’ Asia strategy. Japan’s government under Shinzo Abe is likely to continue its hard-line policy against North Korea and reinforce cooperation with South Korea and the United States while also pursuing “normal nation” status based on an alliance with the United States. In all of this, South Korea needs to maintain a strategic balance.
North Korea is making strides in nuclear missile development. Its capacity to make an attack will hinder improvements in inter-Korean relations and accelerate the U.S.-China rivalry. At this juncture, South Korea must not forget two objectives during the summit meeting with Trump.
The first is a solid Korea-U.S. alliance. Amid discord between the United States and China, the two countries recognize the strategic importance of South Korea. There are signs of rapprochement between China and South Korea, while Japan wants to become a normal nation unconstrained by pacifist limits and use the United States to gain the upper hand in historical issues with South Korea. At this moment, the basis of South Korea’s foreign policy should be its alliance with the United States, and we need to make efforts to set a virtuous cycle for such relations.
Second, the North Korea policy of both South Korea and the United States goes beyond just pressure and dialogue. What we want is to push North Korea into denuclearization talks. The ultimate goal of such a policy should be complete, verifiable and irreversible nuclear abandonment. There should be no cracks in the policies of South Korea and the United States.
Then how should we prepare for the summit specifically? We need to show how solid and stable the alliance is. Considering Trump’s character, how the summit looks will be very important. In major events, he needs to be encouraged to make supportive remarks about South Korea. Trump declared the relationship between South Korea and the United States as a “great alliance” during a summit in June. He should be urged to emphasize this. We also need to emphasize the contributions that South Korea has made to the United States.
Since Trump is expected to visit the U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, President Moon Jae-in should accompany him and highlight their friendship. One concern is the possibility of anti-Trump protests, which could give Trump anti-Korean feelings.
South Korea and the United States need to coordinate their policy toward North Korea. The key points are sanctions, deterrence and peace. We need to focus on the stance that the two countries believe the strongest possible sanctions and pressure will resolve the nuclear tension.
There should be no disharmony between South Korea’s “peaceful and diplomatic resolution” and the United States’ “all possible options.” Since North Korea is almost complete with its long-range missile technology, we need to clear domestic security uncertainties, and reinforce and supplement the expanded deterrence of the United States for an enhanced alliance.
At the same time, reinforcement of expanded deterrence should not be packaged as a threat to China. Our cooperation with the United States and Japan should not be included in the statement after the summit. Considering the possibility that the statement could worsen relations between the United States and North Korea, the message of peace on the Korean Peninsula should be emphasized.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 2, Page 33
*The author is a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.