President Donald Trump exits Air Force One. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)
Trump’s mishandling of the relationship with South Korea keeps getting worse:
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he may hold up a trade agreement reached this week with South Korea until after a deal is reached with North Korea on denuclearization.
Whatever one thinks about the merits of KORUS, this is a bad way to treat an ally. It is even worse when we remember that this is the ally that has gone out of its way to do the diplomatic work that the U.S. could not or would not do. There would be no diplomatic track to speak of with North Korea were it not for the efforts of President Moon, and Trump repays him with a very public threat of extortion. Presumably he hopes that he can force South Korea to make more concessions while the standoff with the DPRK is ongoing, and this amounts to using a security threat against an ally to extract economic benefits from them. That’s shabby behavior and even worse alliance management. It puts short-term gain ahead of a decades-long relationship with a major treaty ally.
Besides being a gratuitous swipe at South Korea and confirmation that Trump doesn’t understand how alliances work, this posturing betrays an inability to set priorities. If pursuing a solution to the standoff with North Korea takes priority, that should mean shelving disagreements with Seoul over other issues for the time being. If renegotiating the trade agreement is more important, then it makes no sense to put it off until after a deal is reached with North Korea. Since denuclearization isn’t going to happen and insisting on it is still a dead end, South Korea will be waiting a very long time on the trade agreement.