Time to build trustU.S. President Donald Trump kicks off his first visit to South Korea as head of state today. His short trip, scheduled for only two days, should offer a decisive turning point in resolving the ever-deepening nuclear threat from North Korea. President Moon Jae-in and Trump must reaffirm the strength of the Korea-U.S. alliance and start an in-depth discussion to put more pressure on the North to force the recalcitrant regime to give up on its cherished nuclear dream. In a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his earlier trip to Tokyo, Trump vowed to “build pressure on North Korea to the maximum level” together with Abe by using all available means.
But the situation at home and abroad is not that promising. The U.S. president will likely try to find fault with the free trade deal his predecessor, Barack Obama, struck with South Korea, not to mention underscoring the need for both sides to establish an uncontested joint front in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear provocations. In fact, Trump strongly criticized South Korea for reaping a “remarkable trade surplus” after the trade pact during his June summit with Moon in Washington.
On the critical issue of security, too, Uncle Sam will most likely raise an issue of Seoul’s allegedly “lukewarm” attitudes about putting substantial pressure on Pyongyang. Succumbing to the international community’s call for even-tougher sanctions on North Korea, the South Korean government on Monday hurriedly announced a list of its own sanctions through the government bulletin. But the action could be seen as a “symbolic” step that falls way short of Washington’s expectations.
We also wonder why Moon had to mention a need for South Korea to play the role of “diplomatic balancer” between Washington and Beijing in Friday’s interview with foreign media. The question of South Korea promoting its national interest by keeping some distance from both America and China could be a topic worth considering. But Moon’s choice of timing, four days before Trump’s trip to Seoul, is not good.
Nevertheless, South Korea must take advantage of Trump’s visit to lay a stepping stone for the successful resolution of the nuclear crisis. He is arriving in South Korea shortly after receiving a wholehearted welcome from the Japanese people during a three-day visit to Tokyo. We hope Moon does his best to build trust with him. Moon must demonstrate sincerity, one of his strong points, for a better dialogue with Trump in order to focus on addressing the nuclear conundrum.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 7, Page 34