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Fresh diplomatic challenge to new president

Posted April. 29, 2017 07:07,   

Updated April. 29, 2017 07:13


“The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is a billion dollar system. Why are we paying a billion dollars? We're protecting. I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid,” U.S. President Donald Trump told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. It is quite confusing to see Trump requiring South Korea to foot a bill for THAAD in just one day after he announced Wednesday his new hardline policy on North Korea summarized as “maximum engagement and pressure.” Though he is highly unpredictable man, his claim has come seemingly out of nowhere.

In response to Trump’s claims, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea said that South Korea and U.S. have signed an agreement in last July by which South Korea will provide land and infrastructure and the U.S. will provide THAAD purchase and operation costs per regulations of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and added that U.S. has never informed South Korea of the payment for THAAD. Trump’s remarks are careless and reckless while ignoring South Korea’s efforts to explain the appropriateness of having the missile defense system in South Korea amid continuous pressure from China.

It seems that Trump is starting to raise the payment issue with the media. South Korea should remain calm and does not have to fuss around or be aggressive after Trump’s claims as he is an “unpredictable negotiator” who easily changes his mind after the other party’s response. It is also a possible scenario that Trump is taking a strategy to overwhelm South Korea to ask for a greater share in defense costs during negotiation which will take place by the end of this year. During the election campaign, Trump said that South Korea has to pay 100 percent of costs for U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea. He even proposed withdrawal of U.S. Forces from South Korea.

The new administration, which will kick off in ten days, should oppose firmly to Trump’s suggestion that South Korea pay for THAAD after analyzing what can be offered and not based on a set of the SOFA regulations. If the U.S. wants South Korea to pay for THAAD and acts as if it is making a sacrifice, while South Korea could bear billions of dollars of loss from China’s narrow-minded economic retaliation, the U.S. cannot be a genuine ally. Seoul should convince Washington that the main purpose of THAAD is to defend U.S. Forces in South Korea, not to counter North Korea’s nuclear threats, through diplomatic channels.

Trump’s insensitive and inappropriate remarks should be blamed as it can create a huge impact on the political landscape in South Korea, which is becoming increasingly tense and nervous as the presidential election is right around the corner. It seems that there is no adviser for Trump who can describe the current situation in South Korea. Almost 100 days have passed since Trump’s inauguration, but the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the U.S. ambassador to South Korea have not been assigned yet.

Whoever becomes the next president, the next administration has to make its way through the difficulties of North Korea’s nuclear threats and tricky negotiations with Trump. Presidential candidates are all calling for independent national defense, but they must understand the tense atmosphere in South Korea, which does not have a single military, independent satellite for surveillance of North Korea’s nuclear activities. A bill for THAAD from the U.S. should make us realize the solemn reality that the alliance between South Korea and the U.S., serving as a basis for South Korea’s national security, is not given for free.