South Korea can be forgiven for thinking that Donald Trump has their best interests in mind, particularly over North Korea. The reality is that they’re stuck in the middle of an impossible choice: do they follow Trump’s rhetoric of ‘fire and fury’ and risk retaliation from a first strike or do they simply allow North Korea to develop nuclear weapons unhindered? Whatever the options, South Korea is always reassured by the fact that just as Kim-Jong-Un has China, they have America at their back. America, they reason, would never abandon a key strategic ally and economic partner in Asia.
Sadly, Donald Trump wasn’t elected for his experience, diplomatic tact or rational thinking. He was elected on the back of ignorance, fear and a hatred against an elite that he himself represents. Donald Trump didn’t care about North Korea in his campaign, he cared about putting America First and tearing up trade deals that he felt put the country at a disadvantage. After blasting China, Canada, and Mexico, his sights are now set on South Korea. In fact, they are so important that while Trump is touring Lousiana, US officials are preparing to pull the US out of their biggest trade deal with South Korea the five-year-old Korus deal.
The timing of such an event could not be worse. Over the past few months, tensions between North Korea and the USA has steadily risen to the point where an all-out war between the two seems almost inevitable. Now, North Korea has just tested their first hydrogen bomb, taking a major step in their ambition to develop a truly effective nuclear missile. Trump might have his hands full with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, but it hardly justifies slapping South Korea in the face.
Once again, Trump is playing in the hands of his enemies. North Korea must be overjoyed to see America playing petty politics with their loyal allies. South Korea has no love for their dictatorial neighbor, but it’s hard to put on a brave face when your best friend is shouting abuse at you. North Korea’s recent missile tests suggest that Trump’s strategy of trying to threaten Pyongyang have failed.
Once again, China senses a chance to take another step on the global stage. Korus makes America and South Korea economic partners while giving the former significant influence in Asian affairs. If America pulls out, China will hurry to plug the gap they leave and South Korea may find more benefits to playing ball with the cool-headed and pragmatic Chinese than the irrational and impulsive President of the USA.
In tearing up Korus, Trump will not only serve North Korea’s purpose in driving a wedge between Seoul and Washington but also gift China with an economic powerhouse as an ally.
Many of America’s allies, particularly Japan, will be watching this with dismay. The stakes regarding North Korea couldn’t be higher and Japan might wonder how long it will be before Trump comes after them as well. Given that North Korea has launched a missile over Japanese soil and its proximity to the Korean Peninsula, Japan has as much stake in the North Korea problem as South Korea.
In one stroke, Trump has put global safety, important friendships and strategic goals at unacceptable risk all for the sake of pleasing his hardcore base.
The most idiotic thing about all this is that much like many of the other trade deals Trump railed against, Korus isn’t a bad deal. The US Chamber of Commerce has even suggested that the deal is showing great benefits to much of America’s industrial and agricultural sectors. As Britain’s analysis of Brexit shows, dropping out of huge trade deals is a lose-lose game. Everyone takes a big hit, the economy dips a few percentage points and everyone is left worse off.
Despite economic growth, Trump doesn’t realize how crucial America’s trade deals are and ripping them up in impulsive fury serves no one. If anything, it might hurt the very people who voted for him the most.
The only silver lining in all this is that the deal hasn’t been finalized and while the final execution could happen the coming week, several of Trump’s leading members of his administration are trying to dissuade the President from making a huge mistake. Time will tell if their comments will succeed since Trump’s growing frustration with his administration and his desperate need to show that he is fulfilling his promises and making progress make him all the more reckless and uncontrollable.
Donald Trump isn’t just a Russian puppet dancing to Putin’s tune anymore, he is a stooge of America’s adversaries and rivals. Whether by accident or design, he serves their purpose as well as his own rather than the will of those who elected him. I doubt many of them will thank Trump for giving global security over to China and leaving America friendless and broke.
Sorry Seoul, you made some nice cars and gadgets but clearly, it’s not working out. Play nice with China now.