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(News Focus) U.S. election officially shapes up as Clinton-Trump race amid focus on foreign policy

All News 02:45 June 08, 2016

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, June 7 (Yonhap) -- Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton differ sharply in many of their ideas about what the U.S. should look like, and what sets them most apart is foreign policy, especially their stances on alliances.

The November election has now officially shaped up as a race between the real-estate tycoon and the former secretary of state, as Clinton has this week reached the "magic number" of delegates necessary to win the Democratic ticket and became the first female presumptive presidential nominee of a major U.S. party.

Trump clinched the Republican nomination last month.

One of the biggest differences in their foreign policy is the ways they look at alliances. Trump views alliances as a cumbersome burden sucking up taxpayer dollars, while Clinton praises them as a "source of strength" that makes the U.S. safer.

South Korea is watching the election more closely than ever due to its potential impact on the alliance with the U.S., a big departure from past elections, when no candidates questioned the value of the alliance with Seoul, and a focus in Korea policy was mostly on how to deal with North Korea.

Trump has long argued that the U.S. should no longer be the "policeman of the world," expressing deeply negative views of U.S. security commitments overseas and claiming it makes no sense for the U.S. to help defend such wealthy allies as Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia in exchange for little.

He says allies should pay 100 percent of cost of stationing American troops, or the U.S. should be prepared to end their protection. He even suggested allowing South Korea and Japan to develop their own nuclear weapons for self-defense so as to reduce U.S. security burdens.

That stance reflects Trump's "America First" policy that calls for putting U.S. interests ahead of anything else. Trump and aides have repeatedly emphasized the businessman is an excellent negotiator and is ready to use the skill to regain American interests lost under Democratic administrations.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Many agree that the troop presence is also in line with U.S. interests in a region marked by China's rise.

South Korea currently pays about half the costs, about US$900 million a year, to help finance the troop presence, and U.S. officials, including U.S. Forces Korea Commander Vincent Brooks, said it would cost more to keep those troops in the U.S.

On the other hand, a Clinton presidency is expected to bring no major changes to the alliance.

In a major foreign policy speech last week, the former top American diplomat emphasized that the U.S. is stronger and safer thanks to the "power of allies." She also said that alliances are a "source of strength."

Referring to Trump's call for allies to pay up for American defense support, Clinton said that allies should pay their fair shares, and many of them have already increased their spending.

"The real debate here is whether we keep those alliances strong or cut them off," she said, meaning that a Trump presidency would mean an end to the alliances.

Policy on North Korea is another point of difference between Trump and Clinton.

Trump has surprised many by saying he would hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a remark seen as aimed at underscoring he's good at negotiations. But the idea has drawn strong criticism that such a meeting would end up bolstering the North's dictator.

Trump has also stressed the importance of China's role in reining in the North, saying he would use U.S. economic leverage over China to make Beijing use more of its influence over Pyongyang.

Clinton has blasted Trump over his willingness to hold talks with the North's leader, saying he has a "bizarre fascination with dictators." She is expected to continue the current administration's policy of pressuring the communist nation.

Jake Sullivan, head of the Clinton campaign's foreign policy team, said last month that sharply increasing pressure on the North would be the only way to get the communist regime to authentic negotiations over its nuclear program.

Sullivan, considered the No. 1 candidate for national security adviser under a Clinton presidency, also said the North will be a top priority for the next president, and Clinton will deal with the problem in a similar way she dealt with Iran's nuclear program.

Trump is also expected to seek renegotiation of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement that has been in effect since 2012. Walid Phares, a top foreign policy adviser for Trump, said in an interview with Yonhap that Trump wants to go back to "ground zero" with regard to the trade deal.

Clinton does not dispute existing free trade deals, but expressed negative views of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation free trade pact awaiting legislative approval, even though TPP is one of President Barack Obama's foreign policy legacies.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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