Edi­to­ri­als: Keep­ing South Korea on bal­ance

Pres­i­dent-elect Trump must dis­cour­age mis­chief from the north

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY -

Don­ald Trump won’t be­come pres­i­dent un­til Jan. 20, but the globe will de­mand his at­ten­tion be­fore the echo of his oath of of­fice fades across the Na­tional Mall. Po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in South Korea could well pro­voke mis­chief among U.S. ad­ver­saries in Asia dur­ing the in­ter­ven­ing six weeks. Pres­i­dent Obama will con­trol the levers of Amer­i­can foreign pol­icy un­til high noon that day, but Mr. Trump must be pre­pared to say firmly that any­one hop­ing to find day­light be­tween the United States and its close ally in Asia will be dis­ap­pointed.

“The land of the morn­ing calm,” as South Kore­ans af­fec­tion­ately call their home­land, is any­thing but tran­quil, morn­ing or evening, dur­ing th­ese clos­ing days of 2016. The na­tion’s first fe­male pres­i­dent, Park Ge­un­hye, was im­pli­cated dur­ing the fall on charges that her per­sonal aides ex­torted tens of mil­lions of dol­lars from large Korean busi­ness con­glom­er­ates. Fol­low­ing large protests, Miss Park was im­peached ear­lier this month by Par­lia­ment. Street clashes con­tinue be­tween demon­stra­tors and the dis­graced pres­i­dent’s sup­port­ers while she awaits a verdict on her per­ma­nent re­moval from the na­tion’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court.

De­spite a suc­ces­sion of pres­i­den­tial melt­downs, South Korea has al­most mirac­u­lously es­caped eco­nomic catas­tro­phe. Gross do­mes­tic prod­uct has av­er­aged nearly 7 per­cent an­nu­ally be­tween 1971 and 2016, though it slipped to 2.6 per­cent in this year’s third quar­ter. Since suf­fer­ing dev­as­ta­tion dur­ing the Korean War, the na­tion has risen from the ashes to be­come the fourth-largest econ­omy in Asia and the 11th-largest in the world.

All the while, South Korea’s evil twin to the north glares en­vi­ously at its neigh­bor’s pros­per­ity. Now that Seoul has again been rocked by po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty, North Korean Pres­i­dent Kim Jong-un may be tempted to spook his es­tranged broth­ers and sis­ters at a vul­ner­a­ble mo­ment by test­ing one of his nu­clear bombs or bal­lis­tic mis­siles, or both. The north is said to have ac­quired the ca­pa­bil­ity to fire a mis­sile car­ry­ing a minia­ture nu­clear war­head, and the regime in the north is rarely up to any­thing good.

China’s seizure of a U.S. Navy un­der­wa­ter drone in the South China Sea may be pay­back for Mr. Trump’s cam­paign prom­ises to hold Bei­jing’s feet to the fire for bet­ter trade deals, as well for dar­ing to make nice with Tai­wan. “We’re be­ing hurt very badly by China with de­val­u­a­tion, with tax­ing us heav­ily at the bor­ders when we don’t tax them, with build­ing a mas­sive fortress in the mid­dle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be do­ing,” Mr. Trump told Fox News. “And frankly with not help­ing us at all with North Korea.”

The Chi­nese have agreed to tighten the screws on Py­ongyang by sign­ing U.N. Res­o­lu­tion 2321, which would pe­nal­ize the north for its rogue nu­clear pro­gram by cut­ting its coal ex­ports by 60 per­cent. Ever the deal­maker, Mr. Trump as pres­i­dent might cob­ble to­gether a trade — of­fer­ing to show some ac­com­mo­da­tion to China on his hard-line trade stance in re­turn for Bei­jing’s help in pun­ish­ing North Korean provo­ca­tions. The Trump com­mit­ment to equip­ping South Korea with the Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense sys­tem, ca­pa­ble of knock­ing down in­com­ing nu­clear mis­siles from the north, should be non-ne­go­tiable.

Restor­ing “morn­ing calm” across the Korean Penin­sula would serve the in­ter­ests of the en­tire Asian con­ti­nent. Mak­ing Amer­i­can great again doesn’t pre­clude Mr. Trump from re­mind­ing other na­tions that se­cu­rity is the key to sta­bil­ity, and sta­bil­ity leads to pros­per­ity.

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