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How to outsmart Trump’s bombshell remarks

Posted May. 03, 2017 07:10,   

Updated May. 03, 2017 07:25


U.S. President Donald Trump, who demanded South Korea to pay for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system, has now mentioned the possibility to hold dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this time. “If it is appropriate for me to meet with Kim, I would be honored to do it,” Trump told an interview with Bloomberg on Monday. The White House sought to contain the ramifications of Trump’s remarks by saying that if conditions are met before a meeting could even be considered, but since Trump used the expression “if it would be appropriate for me to meet with him," five times to express his intention to hold dialogue in person, South Korean cannot afford to disregard his offer.

It is questionable how much sincere and serious President Trump is about his remarks, given that he views all different issues from the perspective of trade. Having used "think big, and maximize your options" as his trade principles, the U.S. president seems to be making even international order as an object of dealing rather than norm. The latest remarks are in line with his tactic of transaction that sends North Korea a message questioning whether Pyongyang would make further nuclear provocations nonetheless, and asking Beijing to step up implementation of sanctions against the North by suggesting Washington-Pyongyang dialogue as an option.

The South Korean foreign ministry said Washington-Pyongyang summit is one of many options that Washington is presenting to Pyongyang, and hence it does not place significance. Seoul does not need to downplay or respond too sensitively to the offer, but rather should prepare for all different possible scenarios. Amid a low approval rating, President Trump could be tempted to seek to find a breakthrough externally to revive his approval rating in state administration, and chances are high that the Korean Peninsula issue could be a measure. Even though the U.S. and North Korea do not go to the negotiating table immediately, Seoul should nonetheless clarify Washington that there should not be dialogue especially that excludes South Korea at a time when the North has yet to declare giving up of nuclear weapons.

The incoming South Korean president should very meticulously deal with U.S. President Trump, who has the character of a deal-maker who makes compromise with the reality. The new South Korean president will need skillfulness and experience that enables him or her not to be outfoxed by willing and dealing techniques of the U.S. president who considers negotiations as "zero sum game" rather than a win-win situation. Seoul needs to demand the opening of an official channel including immediate appointment of new U.S. ambassador to South Korea. Seoul should hold South Korea-U.S. summit as soon as possible to set the basic direction in collaboration with Washington. If South Korea easily and recklessly reveals conflict in the security alliance and value alliance with the U.S., it will only end up benefitting North Korea and China. Also, South Korea should preemptively block the possibility for Washington’s "Korea passing" by keeping in mind that Seoul’s priority for dialogue to help address the North Korean nuclear issue is Washington, rather than Pyongyang.