Trump’s Foreign Policy, South Korea’s Gains and Losses

There will be a change in global order when Trump’s administration launches on Jan. 20. Trump firmly holds that he will never follow any of Obama’s policies. Of course, not everything that Trump said during the presidential campaign is going to become realized; depending on who his staff will be, his policies may be carried out differently. However, Trump’s brand and the main source of votes, “America first,” will be kept. In that case, what will happen to our security, our trade and the North Korean nuclear problem?

First, there will be some changes in the Korea-United States alliance. During Trump’s campaign, he proposed that the U.S. shift its spending to domestic rather than foreign affairs and that he would improve relations with Russia through talks with Putin. He also argued that the missile defense systems in countries like Japan are useless and that the U.S. is wasting money. In that case, there will be changes to the Obama administration’s European and anti-Russian missile defense plans, as well as its “Pivot to East Asia” policy and anti-China missile defense plans. If Trump decreases military intervention in foreign affairs and changes the missile defense plans, there may consequently be changes to the Korean Terminal High Altitude Area Defense placement plans. If the THAAD problem is taken care of, it will allow us to avoid economic retaliation from China. In this regard, Trump’s “America first” focus would not be bad for us. The U.S. may also return wartime operational control (OPCON) to us as a means to decrease its foreign policy intervention. If this happens, we will regain what the Park Geun-Hye administration had given to the U.S. and thus recover our military sovereignty.

However, a decrease in U.S. foreign intervention may be a loss for us. Trump said, “I am going to renegotiate some of our military costs because we protect South Korea,” and that he would withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea and Japan unless they paid a greater share of the cost of the deployment. Therefore, the issue of an increased share of the cost of deployment of U.S. troops in Korea will be brought up in the immediate future. We must be prepared for such negotiations.

Second, there will be changes to Korea-U.S. trading policy. Economically, Trump wants to bring the manufacturing industries back to the U.S. so that there are more jobs for Americans. The U.S. will therefore turn to protectionism as a means to protect domestic industries. Trump’s claims that he would increase tariffs against China to 45 percent seems highly unlikely, but the claim shows his preference for protectionism. Korea has seen a significant trade surplus from the U.S. from the 2007 Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS Agreement). We had a trade surplus of $3.62 billion in 2013, $4 billion in 2014, and $3.38 billion in 2015. $3 billion to $4 billion is our annual military budget — not a small amount, even for the United States. Since Trump has directly warned about the renegotiation of the KORUS Agreement, it will not be easy for us to continue to enjoy a trade surplus with the U.S.

Third, what will happen to the North Korean nuclear problem? Trump has called Kim Jong-un a “f***ing idiot,” but he also claimed that he can negotiate with Kim about the North Korean nuclear problem over a hamburger. Since Trump has not ruled out the possibility of negotiating with North Korea, it seems that his policy toward North Korea will be different from Obama’s, who refrained from negotiating with Kim. The details toward the North Korean nuclear policy will have to be decided by the secretary of state, but as of now, Trump’s new National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s position can be seen as an important indicator. During an interview with the Korean press on Oct. 21, Flynn stated that Kim Jong-un has been showing off North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and that it must not be left alone. On Nov. 18, Flynn said to a Blue House* representative visiting Washington D.C. that the North Korean nuclear problem will be dealt with as a high priority. Considering that Obama’s “Strategic Patience” policy has only led to the enhancement of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, it is fortunate that Trump and Flynn are active in the North Korean nuclear issue. Even if they use a hard line approach, it is better than Obama’s objective policy, and it can be the turning point to solving this problem.

Trump’s foreign policy may be a threat or an opportunity for us. Therefore, we need to prepare for whichever situation may come. However, in a situation where our president’s authority falls to the ground and the administration has no driving force, we cannot deal with security, trade or the North Korean nuclear problem to our benefit. Even if there is a golden opportunity here, it is possible to miss it. For the benefit of our country, a president and administration whose authority is accepted by the public should rise up as soon as possible.

* Editor’s note: The Blue House is the executive office and official residence of the president of South Korea.

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