Less than four months away from the U.S. presidential election on November 3, President Donald Trump is more likely to become a one-term president. All recent polls show that Democratic candidate Joe Biden who had served as the vice president during the Obama administration for eight years has a significant upper hand over Trump, not only at a national level but also in major swing states where the current president had surprise victories four years ago.
The most important initiative that Trump has had for the Korean Peninsula was to meet the North Korean leader in person, which is in line with South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to embrace the North. However, Trump’s reelection failure will mean that such a past will disappear. This friendly approach to North Korea brought dramatic photo ops and the ease of tension in certain parts of the peninsula, yet the recent unyielding attitude of the North has put the peninsula in stalemate for several months.
It is clear that North Korea is not ready to take action necessary for denuclearization. Things may change until November, but it is unlikely that President Trump will find a breakthrough with North Korea before he steps down. This might come as a disappointment to South Korean leaders who wish that exchanges between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will help promote progress between the two Koreas.
Biden will be much more cautious toward North Korea at least in the beginning. As President Moon gets closer to the end of his term, the joint approach and expectations of South Korea and the U.S. will have to be adjusted to a degree. The leaders of the two countries should make sure that the issue of North Korea policies does not become a major point of contention when the new administration led by Biden is launched in Washington, D.C.
Whoever wins the U.S. election, China will have a bigger impact over the U.S.’ approach to East Asia for the next few years. The U.S.’ two major parties view China as the most serious challenge to South Korea’s security and economy and expect the allies to consider such a factor when setting policies. So far, Biden has differentiated himself from Trump by emphasizing that he will rely more on cooperation with allies and international organizations, rather than one-sided actions. This may bring difficult decisions to South Korea in the future.
As the election gets closer, the Americans’ respect for South Korea is reaching its peak as they have been disappointed by the U.S. government’s failure to address COVID-19 and impressed by South Korea’s success, experiences, and resources, as well as its willingness to share the aforementioned. South Korea also set an example for democratic countries by holding a free and open election during the pandemic. We only hope that the November election in the U.S. will be also evaluated as a similarly successful event.