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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 28)

Politics 06:57 August 28, 2019

Self-serving Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump has continued to baffle South Korea and its people by making remarks that sound like music to the ears of North Koreans. Such remarks cannot be overlooked because they may negatively affect the strong alliance between Seoul and Washington.

During the G7 summit in France on Sunday, Trump described the recent South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise, which ended Aug. 20, as "unnecessary" and a "total waste of money." We have to ask him: What did he really mean by that? He might want to stop all the combined military drills with the Asian ally as he reveals his intention of saving money.

What is clear is that Trump took a negative attitude toward the drills. Yet this attitude is not surprising, given that he already referred to the joint exercises as "ridiculous and expensive." Speaking to reporters Aug. 9, Trump said he has "never" liked them. His words were apparently in response to North Korea's protest against the latest joint exercise.

For starters, Trump's remarks might be aimed at appeasing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who gets hysterical about the Seoul-Washington drills. The U.S. president apparently wanted to give the impression that he echoes Kim's concerns about them. Trump still wants to see Pyongyang resume stalled working-level nuclear talks with Washington as Kim promised to do so in a letter sent to Trump early this month.

Nevertheless, Trump should have refrained from going so far as saying he feels no need for any joint military exercises with South Korea. Arguing that it is a total waste of money can be seen as a blatant disregard for the decades-long defense alliance ― a linchpin in securing peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

In this regard, we have to express our profound concerns about what Trump thinks about the partnership between the allies. Luring the Kim regime back to denuclearization talks is important for Trump who is seeking re-election next year. No doubt he needs to make substantive progress in prodding the North to give up its nuclear program. But making a deal with Pyongyang should be done in close cooperation with Seoul. It should not infringe on South Korea's national interests or the spirit of the alliance.

Also worrisome is Trump's reaction to the North's repeated test-firing of short-range ballistic missiles. He has not cared about the provocations as long as they pose no direct threat to the U.S. mainland. How could he ignore such missile launches which are direct security threats to the South? He must have prioritized his re-election bid over the alliance with Seoul.

Moreover, Trump is applying more pressure on South Korea to shoulder a greater cost for the upkeep of American troops here. He is reportedly going to ask Seoul to pay $5 billion for defense cost-sharing in 2020, five times more than Korea has to pay this year. The self-serving U.S. president should not try to undermine the alliance with Seoul by advocating his "America first" policy.

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