Trump win to strengthen ties in Northeast Asia

Trump win to strengthen ties in Northeast Asia

Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election may prod South Korea into building stronger ties with Japan and China, according to Katharine H.S.Moon, a senior fellow at the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institute.

She called for South Korea to seek “balanced and pragmatic” diplomacy with its neighboring countries to deal with political pressure from the unpredictable Trump administration.

“What South Korea should do is strengthen its relationships with both Japan and China,” said Moon in an interview. She is an expert in inter-Korea and U.S.-Korea relations.

On the issue of U.S. military bases, she pointed out that Korea and Japan are inter-connected.

“The U.S. cannot consider significant changes in one country without considering the strategic and tactical impact on the other,” she said.

“China might also want to seek stronger relations with Korea and Japan in order to balance political pressure from the U.S.”

Moon, who also serves as chairwoman of the SK-Korea Foundation in Korea Studies, ruled out the possibility that U.S. troops will withdraw from South Korea.

“I don’t think the U.S. will pull troops out of South Korea. There are institutions with vested interests and clear views about the national interest that will stop Trump even if he wants to pull out, such as the military establishment and the intelligence establishment,” she said.

“President Carter ran a campaign promising troop withdrawal, and the military brass said ‘no’ once he became president.”

During his campaign, Trump warned that the U.S. may pull its troops out of Korea and Japan if they do not agree to pay 100 percent of the cost for its forces stationed in the two countries.

She expects that North Korea is not likely to be on the top of South Korea’s foreign policy agenda in the next year.

“Whoever becomes president in South Korea will matter more now to set the direction of relations with the U.S.,” she said.

Moon, a professor of Political Science at Wellesley College, forecast that Pyeongyang will become more cautious with its nuclear and missile tests.

“If people think Kim Jong-un and the regime are ‘unpredictable, then Pyeongyang will now get a taste of unpredictability from Trump,” she said.

She expects the reclusive country to take a wait and see attitude for a while to figure out what’s really in Trump’s mind.

“North Korea will probably try to test the Trump administration to see if there is room for some kind of deal-making,” she said.

“I don’t think Pyeongyang will test Trump with missiles in the initial period of the new presidency because they don’t know what Trump’s reaction might be and because China is now also cautious about Trump since he has threatened an economic battle.”

According to Moon, under the Trump administration, it will become much more difficult for South Korea to seek joint responses with the international community,.

“A Trump presidency makes international responses to North Korea threats more uncertain since he and his future appointees will be people who look down on the U.N. and prefer unilateral decision-making,” she said.

She believes that Trump’s policy toward the Korean Peninsula will depend on whom he chooses for key positions — Secretary of State, Defense and the National Security Council director.

“Trump knows so little about North Korea and its troublesome role in the Asian region,” she said.

“He needs to have experts who can translate North Korea to him in a way he can understand.”

She forecasts that hardliners will assume the key positions in the new U.S. cabinet and that containment will be their preference.

“But no one knows what kind of a president Trump will be — whether he will listen to his top advisors or act on his ‘gut instinct.'”

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