Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Trump Presidency and What It Might Mean for Korea

“May you live in interesting times.”

And what an interesting year 2016 has been. A number of beloved celebrities have died, Brangelina has split up, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and Donald J. Trump, the tweeting orange who’d date his own daughter if she weren’t his daughter, seems set to be the next president of the United States.

Many journalists, pundits, writers, bloggers, thinkers, philosophers, and anyone with an opinion is going to talk about this election for years. What everyone did wrong, where they went right, what caused what, how things will turn out, etc.

Old political alliances that died eight years ago are going to reemerge. Progressives who argued that President Obama needed more power to do the things he wanted to do and who lauded his use of executive orders are now going to side with libertarians in arguing for a weaker executive.

(Welcome back, progressives. How’ve you been?)

But not all old alliances will be rediscovered. Conservatives and Neo-conservatives might not rekindle their old relationship. But then again, knowing how many times Trump has changed his positions on any given topic within a matter of minutes, I suppose it would be foolish to write off anything.

But what does a Trump presidency mean for inter-Korean relations? What would it mean for the ROK-US alliance? What about the KOR-US Free Trade Agreement?

In short, all bets are off.

Trump has long said that he would put all options on the table in regards to negotiating with “free-riding” allies. Never mind that Korea is not a free-riding ally. But inherent in that position is the willingness to withdraw American troops from the Korean Peninsula unless South Korea pays more for the alliance’s costs.

(I do believe he once asked why South Korea wasn’t paying 100 percent of the costs during one of his stump speeches.)

Let’s assume that, unlike Jimmy Carter, he will refuse to bend to foreign policy and military experts and simply do as he wishes. If that happens, it is likely that the US might seek to quickly transfer wartime control of the South Korean military to Seoul as soon as possible. As worrisome as that might be considering the fact that South Korea might have been controlled by a shadowy cult over the past few years, what’s even more worrisome is that this may give the pro-nuclear armament voices in South Korea the boost that they have been seeking, which could lead to all sorts of gargantuan problems.

Would an American withdrawal from Korea, and possibly Japan, mean that Seoul and Tokyo might have the incentive to finally push aside old fights and seek a closer partnership with one another to seek a common defense against North Korea? Or would it remove the one common denominator that had nominally united Seoul and Tokyo in a fractured trilateral alliance?

Park Geun-hye is now a lame duck president and it appears that the next South Korean president might come from the Minjoo Party, which has a history of strong anti-American elements. Combine that with a Trump presidency that eschews foreign policy and what would that do to inter-Korean relations?

Trump has gone on record and said that China ought to do more to contain the North Korean threat. But China has never cared to put North Korea in its place. And assuming that Trump withdraws American troops from Korea and/or transfers wartime control to Seoul, how would China’s perception of the Korean Peninsula change?

Furthermore, Trump has also suggested that China ought to invade North Korea. As unlikely as it is for China to take up on that offer, regardless of which political party governs South Korea now and in the future, that is yet something else that will likely fray the ROK-US alliance.

Would an emboldened North Korea continue to pursue further nuclear armament? Will sanctions continue to be enforced against North Korea or will they be put in the backseat, thus destroying any progress (limited as they have been) that have been made over the past eight to ten years?

As mentioned earlier, the next South Korean president might come from the Minjoo Party. Would the Minjoo Party reintroduce the Sunshine Policy, thus killing sanctions programs before they have a real chance to succeed? What about the deployment of THAAD missile batteries? Will that be canceled?

How would the free trade agreement that was signed between Korea and the US change? Trump has been vague about this. Will it be scrapped? If so, how would that affect the Korean economy? The Korean economy has been experiencing slumping exports and rising household debt. A looming interest rate hike by the US Federal Reserve has been seriously threatening Korea’s economic growth. Any possible renegotiation or hint of scrapping the free trade deal could send the Korean economy plummeting.

I have to point out that the election is not yet over. Nothing is ever over until the fat lady sings. But pundits are saying the word 
“unlikely” with growing frequency in regards to a Clinton victory.

We have to remember that politicians have a tendency to renege on many of their campaign pledges once having won an election. So whether or not Trump follows through with his pledges is up in the air. Maybe he will. Or maybe he’ll plate the White House in gold and play golf in Scotland with Duterte and Putin while Mike Pence and Paul Ryan do the real work of governing the US.

Regardless of how things turn out, the next four years are going to be incredibly interesting.

For now, however, the whole world might have to get used to saying “President Donald J. Trump.”

God help us all.

Image Source

No comments:

Post a Comment