President Donald Trump told Reuters in an interview yesterday that South Korea should pay for the $1 billion (approximately 1.13 trillion South Korean won) Terminal Altitude Area Defense system. "I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid," he said. Trump also brought up the KORUS-FTA which he says has been creating significant deficits for the U.S. in goods trading with South Korea, and said, "It's a horrible deal, and we are going to renegotiate that deal or terminate it."* According to Park Geun-hye administration’s announcement in July 2016 about the decision to deploy THAAD, the two allies agreed that the U.S. would pay for the system and its operational costs, with South Korea providing land and supporting infrastructure. Trump's remarks yesterday reverse, without an explanation, the United States’ agreement to pay for the THAAD, which was the premise for its deployment. It is also shocking that he went so far as to mention the possible termination of the KORUS-FTA.
The Trump administration, after its unilateral deployment of THAAD, is now shifting the burden of its cost to South Korea. This act violates and ignores the sovereignty of South Korea and the pride of its people. Trump seemed unconcerned with the fact that with only 10 days remaining until the presidential election to replace impeached former President Park Geun-hye, his remarks on THAAD would be a critical factor in the election. It’s questionable whether he is using this opportunity to try to pressure our next administration. His insensitivity to our circumstances is shocking, as South Korea is currently under retaliation by China for the THAAD. After the summit with China’s President Xi Jinping, Trump even revealed in an interview that China referred to South Korea as a tributary. We cannot help but be astonished by his arrogance and lack of respect for our country. It is obviously an affront to South Koreans.
There is nothing wrong with Trump prioritizing America's national interests. However, he doesn’t have the right to do it on the back of another country and its people. Although the South Korean government has announced the purpose of THAAD to be preparation for a North Korean nuclear attack, the primary goal is, in fact, to protect U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. To say that South Korea should bear the cost of THAAD deployment is a terrible factual distortion. His commentary also could have been aimed at making arrangements for requesting South Korea pay more for U.S. military presence or for gaining the upper hand in future negotiations of the KORUS-FTA. Still, his remarks were inappropriate. The KORUS-FTA that was signed provides that it terminates 180 days after the date on which one party notifies the other in writing of its intention to terminate the agreement. Whether the agreement is terminated or amended should happen according to procedure. Threatening to terminate an agreement formally reached between the two governments and ratified by the council is an action one does not expect from a responsible national leader.
Moreover, if his idea is to use South Korea’s national security concerns to reap more from the negotiation, he is using a superficial shopkeeper's trick. We should also question whether Trump's dispatch of an aircraft carrier that heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula was for show to cut money spent in South Korea. Trying to make business profits in the name of an alliance is not the proper way to treat an ally.
Trump’s comments on the cost of THAAD is raising many questions, including the possibility of a classified memorandum between the two countries. Still, the South Korean government continues to insist the agreement on THAAD has not changed. South Korea’s Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, Chief of National Security Council Kim Kwan-jin, and Minister of National Defense Han Min-goo need to reveal when and what the United States has requested regarding the cost of THAAD. With a government that has lost the trust of its people, South Koreans have no idea what additional burden South Korea should bear for the THAAD. Trump's comments on THAAD has made it clear why the next administration needs to re-examine it in its entirety. Since the preconditions for its deployment are now broken, everything should be reviewed from the beginning. Prior to that, the incoming administration and the National Assembly should hold a hearing on former President Park and acting President Hwang, who are tainted with lies and shortcuts, to find out the details about the agreement on THAAD deployment.
*Editor’s note: KORUS-FTA stands for the Korean-United States Free Trade Agreement.