Uncertainty in Washington

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Uncertainty in Washington

The U.S. presidential campaign is over. It is too early to predict a victory for President Donald Trump or Democratic candidate Joe Biden because the race seems tight, especially in battleground states. Traditionally, a winner is determined by this afternoon Korea time, followed by a concession from the loser. However, if Biden wins — and if Trump does not accept his defeat, finding fault with preliminary votes, including millions of mail-in and absentee ballots — a victor may not be declared for a while, possibly even involving a battle in the courts.
 
Whoever wins the election, South Korea’s heavy reliance on the United States on the economic and security fronts does not change. The Moon Jae-in administration must prepare for all possible scenarios and draw up national strategies to deal with a new administration in the United States.
 
It is clear that South Korea faces a tough international environment regardless of the result of the U.S. election due to a heated battle for geopolitical supremacy between America and China. Whoever wins the election, that will not change. Therefore, the Moon administration, which has been walking on a tight rope between the two giants — as seen in its deliberate reluctance to join the U.S.-led Economic Prosperity Network (EPN) for fear of China’s retaliation — will have to find a new balance. If Biden wins, his administration’s pressure on South Korea to share more of the defense costs — as the Trump administration persistently demanded — could subside. Instead, Biden will likely demand Korea play a bigger role on global issues involving the alliance. Biden’s victory will also translate into increasing pressure on Seoul to improve its relations with Tokyo to help contain China’s dramatic rise.
 
In case Biden wins, a big change is expected on Korean peninsular issues given his emphasis during the campaign on restoring traditional U.S. diplomacy. Therefore, if he returns to the lower level negotiations with North Korea after abandoning Trump’s unconventional top-down negotiations, that could pose serious challenges to the Moon administration, which has rolled up its sleeves to mediate another U.S.-North Korea summit in the near future. Even if Trump wins, the U.S. government is not likely to try to repeat the botched summit in Hanoi between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un like last year. Whoever wins, North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons, most likely forcing Washington to prioritize negotiations with Pyongyang based on a nuclear freeze.
 
To prepare for Biden’s victory, the Moon administration must build a human network with his camp to effectively deal with the peninsular issues. The die has been cast. The government must find feasible ways to cement our alliance with Uncle Sam and maximize our national interests down the road.

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