South Korea badly in need of a lit­tle Trump love

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY TODD WOOD

There’s been a lot go­ing on in re­cent weeks with the Stal­in­ist regime of North Korea and its quest for a nu­clear arse­nal to threaten the world. It is ob­vi­ous the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tends fi­nally to stop talk­ing and start do­ing some­thing about this fes­ter­ing geopo­lit­i­cal sore. As Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said this week af­ter the lat­est North Korean mis­sile test, “The United States has spo­ken enough about North Korea. We have no fur­ther com­ment.”

Pres­i­dent Trump, who is talk­ing about the cri­sis on the penin­sula with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping this week, summed up his ex­pec­ta­tions for Beijing thusly: “China will ei­ther de­cide to help us with North Korea or they won’t . ... If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for any­one.”

Mr. Trump has also heav­ily fo­cused on as­sur­ing Ja­pan of Amer­ica’s com­mit­ment to its al­lies in the region. The pres­i­dent played golf, twice, with Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, and made sure the world saw a ro­bust Ja­pane­seAmer­i­can re­la­tion­ship. This greatly re­as­sured the Ja­panese public that their Amer­i­can ally was still to be trusted.

How­ever, you get a gold star if you can fig­ure out the one crit­i­cal ally that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has so far re­as­sured about the so­lid­ity of the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship. In fact, no Amer­i­can am­bas­sador has been named yet and this long­time friend will not be privy to this week’s talks be­tween Mr. Xi and Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

Yes, I’m talk­ing about that other Korea, the Repub­lic of Korea. That would be South Korea — you know, the coun­try whom we fought a war to pre­serve and a land where tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans died in a war with North Korea that, tech­ni­cally, still hasn’t ended.

Yes, the United States is de­ploy­ing the THAAD mis­sile de­fense sys­tem in the South. How­ever, this is a lon­grange, high al­ti­tude de­fense against bal­lis­tic mis­siles. This sys­tem is more likely de­signed to pro­tect Ja­pan and Amer­i­can as­sets in the region, such as Guam and other Amer­i­can out­posts. By con­trast, the im­me­di­ate threat to the South, and Seoul in par­tic­u­lar, is ar­tillery from just across the DMZ. There are thou­sands of North Korean ar­tillery tubes em­bed­ded in the moun­tains only a few miles from the South Korean cap­i­tal. The North rou­tinely has ad­ver­tised its in­ten­tion to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” if war breaks out again.

The South has paid a price for agree­ing to host THAAD on its ter­ri­tory. China re­ally doesn’t like it, wor­ried about a U.S. mis­sile de­fense pro­gram in the same way the Sovi­ets once did. In­fu­ri­ated by THAAD, the Chi­nese are tar­get­ing South Korean eco­nomic in­ter­ests such as tourism, where pack­age deals to the South have been banned. South Kore­ans in China have been as­saulted and South Korean busi­nesses boy­cotted.

The com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment in­sists these events are just or­di­nary Chi­nese cit­i­zens ex­press­ing their anger, but ob­vi­ously the vi­o­lence is state-in­spired.

So the South Kore­ans won­der: Why are we not be­ing in­cluded in the de­bate when we are pay­ing a price for stand­ing up to Beijing and Py­ongyang? Why hasn’t a U.S. am­bas­sador been ap­pointed to one of its crit­i­cal friends in the region?

There is also the his­tor­i­cal an­i­mos­ity be­tween Kore­ans and the Ja­panese that dates back to WWII (and be­fore) that must be taken into ac­count. Per­cep­tions in this de­bate are ex­tremely im­por­tant. When Seoul sees the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pay­ing ex­tra at­ten­tion to Ja­panese se­cu­rity and the re­la­tion­ship with the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter, it has knock-on ef­fects back home.

South Korea would like the U.S. to pres­sure China to end its eco­nomic pres­sure cam­paign. They would like to be in­cluded in the re­gional dis­cus­sions about their fu­ture. Mr. Trump’s sug­ges­tion that the U.S. will “go it alone” if need be re­gard­ing the North Korean threat, and his out­reach to Ja­pan have plainly wor­ried the South.

This is most likely just the re­sult of the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion get­ting its geopo­lit­i­cal sea legs. How­ever, it is a slight that needs to be rec­ti­fied.

● L. Todd Wood is a for­mer spe­cial op­er­a­tions he­li­copter pi­lot and Wall Street debt trader, and has con­trib­uted to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, Na­tional Re­view, the New York Post and many other pub­li­ca­tions. He can be reached through his web­site, LTod­

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