Reaffirming the allianceNow that the 24-hour state visit by U.S. President Donald Trump has ended, it’s a relief it went well. During his short stay, he fit in a visit to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gangwon, held one-on-one and expanded summits with President Moon Jae-in, and addressed the National Assembly. The summits centered on North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The presidents agreed to entirely remove the cap on the payload on South Korean ballistic missiles to reinforce Seoul’s independent military capabilities and deterrence against North Korea.
Trump had a different tone on South Korea compared to past U.S. leaders. He was outspoken about the free trade pact being a “horrible” deal. Upon arriving at the U.S. base in Pyeongtaek, he claimed he came to Korea to create jobs in the United States. Many had believed he would make strong demands regarding the bilateral free trade agreement.
But at the press conference, he focused on security issues by reaffirming that South Korea is a very important ally and North Korea is a central issue and threat. He claimed there was no “skipping” of South Korean interests in policies towards North Korea and others.
The purchase of U.S. arms will be beneficial for both Seoul and Washington. Trump did not only come to sell weapons. But as he said, the United States makes great weapons, and the purchase will mitigate U.S. pressure on the trade deficit as well as strengthen Korean defense capabilities. Experts have been advising Seoul to find ways to balance mutual benefits in other areas in order to avoid a renegotiation of the FTA.
Trump agreed to expanding rotational deployment of U.S. strategic assets, yet fell short of giving his word on permanent or regular stationing. Seoul nevertheless has gained greater support on the U.S. deterrence against North Korean threats.
But we must not let our guard down. After boasting about his extraordinary relationship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a golf round during his earlier visit to Japan, Trump criticized Tokyo for condoning the huge U.S. trade deficit with Japan. We cannot know when Trump will turn unfavorably towards South Korean interests. We must get ready for an unwavering response to any upsets in the future.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 8, Page 34