Korea’s deepening isolationIt is alarming to see U.S. President Donald Trump make remarks that makes it sound like he is siding with North Korea in criticizing joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises simply because he is displeased with U.S. tax money going into defending other countries, regardless of a seven-decade alliance.
Trump tweeted on Sunday that he had received a “long, beautiful” letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “Much of it complaining about the ridiculous and expensive (joint) exercises,” he said. Trump implied that he agreed with North Korea by referring to the joint exercises as “ridiculous and expensive.” Trump has reportedly asked Seoul to shell out $5 billion to sustain U.S. troops in the Korean Peninsula — five times higher than Korea’s current share.
From his implication, Trump is ready to chuck away regular drills between South Korean and U.S. troops unless Seoul pays more. Pyongyang may be getting what it wants by going directly to Washington to scrap its regular joint drills and destabilize the South Korea-U.S. defense alliance. The letter was reportedly handed over to a senior U.S. government official at the truce village of Panmunjom to be delivered to Trump. This could be an ominous sign that important issues such as denuclearization, the normalization of ties between Washington and Pyongyang, and a peace process could take place without the direct involvement of Seoul.
Pyongyang has become more blunt in shunning Seoul to confront Washington directly. The North Korean Foreign Ministry said it won’t contact South Korea unless it explains why it carried out military exercises. It added that it would keep up with dialogue with the United States whenever the mood is set. Pyongyang is playing by its old tactics of shaking the traditional Seoul-Washington ties.
Seoul has itself to be blamed for the current pitiful situation. The government poured out all its efforts in match-making between the Washington and Pyongyang. During the historical meeting among the heads of the two Koreas and the United States at Panmunjom during Trump’s short visit to Seoul in June, President Moon Jae-in stepped aside for a meeting between Trump and Kim. Because Seoul posed as an eager go-between, its role naturally became meaningless once the two hit it off. If dialogue proceeds without Seoul’s involvement, South Korea could be excluded from shaping the future of the Korean Peninsula.
Meanwhile, Beijing and Tokyo are cozying up amidst icy ties between Seoul and Tokyo. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng made a visit to Tokyo for a bilateral “strategic dialogue” with his Japanese counterpart, the first of its kind in seven years, and also met with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono. While relationships around the region have all turned closer, Seoul is a loner. And yet Seoul’s relationship with Beijing has not recovered since the fallout over the U.S. antimissile deployment. Seoul must reexamine its entire diplomatic policy. It must stop engrossment with North Korea and put more efforts to mend ties with its neighbors.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 12, Page 30