One almost has to pity South Korea at this point. Bordering a nuclear-armed hostile neighbor to the North that they are still technically at war with after 67 years, faced with an ally nominally protecting them that has elected someone as president who not only wants to end the free trade agreement that his last Republican predecessor negotiated, but may wind up destroying half the country responding to North Korea’s nuclear intransigence. It ain’t easy being South Korea right now.
According to an article in The Washington Post, the South Korean government is doing the best they can to ignore President Trump. It’s not just the taunts of “appeasement” that Trump tweets their way when South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was elected on a platform of returning to a dialog with their northern antagonists, declares his intention to do just that. It’s not the attack on the free trade deal since Trump has never met a deal that he didn’t make himself that he’s liked. It’s not the fact that in the midst of the latest round of North Korean nuclear tests, Trump called Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe twice yesterday without ever bothering to check in with the South Koreans. It’s all of this and more.
It’s having to deal with an American President who has said multiple times that he’d be “honored” to meet with North Korean leader and “smart cookie” Kim Jung Un, but then after President Moon declares the need for dialogue, tweets that “their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”
Moon decided to take a measured response to that one, issuing a statement after Trump’s tweet declaring:
“South Korea is a country that experienced a fratricidal war. The destruction of war should not be repeated in this land. We will not give up and will continue to push for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through peaceful means working together with our allies.”
David Straub, the author of a book about anti-Americanism in South Korea and a former State Department employee who worked with both North and South Korea, offers some insight into how South Korea is approaching this seemingly untenable situation with America.
“They think they’re dealing with an unreasonable partner and complaining about it isn’t going to help — in fact, it might make it worse…Opinion polls show South Koreans have one of the lowest rates of regard for Trump in the world and they don’t consider him to be a reasonable person,” Straub said. “In fact, they worry he’s kind of nuts, but they still want the alliance.”
Poor South Korea. They suddenly find themselves like a family with a crazy, but rich, uncle who is prone to shouting offensive words at the drop of a hat. They don’t want to offend him for fear of losing his largess, but have to worry about him smoking in bed and burning the whole house down.
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