What if Trump loses?

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What if Trump loses?


Nam Jeong-ho
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

A show starring North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, and featuring President Moon Jae-in, has captured the world’s attention for the past two years. What if Trump leaves this show? During the past two months, the Cho Kuk scandal had gripped the nation’s attention, tempting the public to ignore extremely important developments outside the country. One of them is the U.S. presidential election, which takes place in a year.

As of now, the situation is not favorable to Trump. According to a Fox News poll on Oct. 10, Trump would lose to any of the leading Democratic candidates — former Vice President Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. If the inquiry to impeach Trump over the Ukraine scandal intensifies, the margin will grow further. If the current situation continues, the show starring Kim and Trump will soon end.

Of course, Trump may win, because various surprises are possible in a U.S. presidential election. But what’s clear is that Kim will plan his strategy for the nuclear negotiation based on a possible defeat of Trump. In this case, North Korea will have two options. First will be making sure that sanctions are lifted permanently and irreversibly during the remaining term of Trump. The second option would be waiting to strike a deal with the next president.

If Pyongyang wants to strike a deal during Trump’s term, it must hurry. Even if Trump decides to lift sanctions, it will take time to persuade the U.S. Congress. That must be why North Korea is losing patience. On Oct. 27, Workers’ Party Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol threatened that it would be a foolish delusion on the part of Washington if it ignores the end-of-the-year deadline by using delaying tactics. “There can be the exchange of fire at any moment,” he warned.


U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the border village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone, June 30, 2019. [AP/YONHAP]

But Trump will not easily budge. If nothing changes by the end of this year, Pyongyang will try to strike a deal with the next president, as a deal with Trump can be reversed by his successor.

In fact, the 1994 Geneva agreement, reached during the presidency of Bill Clinton, broke down largely because of his successor George W. Bush, who put North Korea on “an axis of evil” and pushed a hostile policy toward North Korea.

Furthermore, leading Democratic candidates — both Biden and Warren — are extremely negative about Trump’s North Korea policy. Biden has criticized Trump for having turned a blind eye to the North’s human rights issues. He criticized Trump for defending the North Korean dictator and failing to appoint an ambassador for North Korean human rights. Warren is no different. “Our President shouldn’t be squandering American influence on photo [opportunities] and exchanging love letters with a ruthless dictator,” she said.

They both stress the importance of improving human rights in North Korea. Therefore, in a short time Pyongyang could face a hard time persuading the United States to lift sanctions unless there is an improvement in its human rights situation. That must be why North Korea ridiculed Biden as “a fool of low I.Q.”

Although the prospects are increasingly dim that the nuclear crisis will be resolved through a deal between Kim and Trump, the Moon administration seems to be obsessed with the idea. That is probably because of its sense of destiny — that it must build the unshakable foundations for unification during Moon’s term.

But the worst part of an obsession of that sort is that it paralyzes rational thinking and hinders reasonable judgments. Giving assistance to North Korea without any return and continuing a humiliating attitude toward Pyongyang are all the side effects of this administration’s obsession.

If the government sticks to such a path so strongly opposed by the conservatives and centrists, the possibility of a liberal leader being elected to replace Moon will go down. How would North Korea act if there is a good possibility that the liberal administration will be replaced in two years and six months? Pyongyang will ignore the current administration’s promises. We will face the irony that the more the South tries to resolve North Korea issues, the less they will be resolved.

West Germany succeeded in unification thanks to its consistent policy that it would prepare for unification, but it did not openly talk about it. For the Moon administration to make a decisive contribution to the reunification of this divided land, its policy should be reasonable enough that it will not be changed by its successor. Now is the time to create a plan B based on the idea that Trump won’t be a part of the show.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 29, Page 34
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