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Trump or Biden? South Korea’s Strategic Dilemma Deepens

Daniel Kim Views  

With the U.S. election just four months away, there is growing interest over who will occupy the White House next. Given the starkly different foreign policy stances between Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican candidate Donald Trump, the impact is expected to be significant.

Since taking office in 2022, Yoon Suk Yeol has spent the last two years aligning its foreign policy with the Biden administration. If Biden wins, this alignment and alliance are expected to continue.

However, the Yoon administration is on high alert as U.S. public opinion is in flux due to recent TV debates and other factors. Following the first presidential debate on September 27th, there is a sense of uncertainty as Biden was perceived to have lost to Trump.

The South Korean government faced a similar situation during the U.S. election four years ago. The Moon Jae In administration, pushing for a Korean Peninsula Peace Process in sync with the Trump administration, was essentially all-in on Trump’s re-election. This was because reactivating the stalled peace process after the no-deal Hanoi summit required Trump’s re-election. Although some in the government suggested the possibility of Biden’s election, it did not gain traction.

Unlike the Moon’s hope, Trump lost due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the Moon administration hurriedly sought to increase common ground, saying the Democratic Party in the U.S. gets along well with Korea. While they managed to get the Biden administration to inherit some of the Trump administration’s Korean Peninsula policy, ultimately, they could not revive the peace process.

Learning from the Moon administration, the Yoon administration prepares for various possibilities. They prepare responses by forming a task force with Biden’s re-election and Trump’s comeback in mind.

Compared to Biden, who is expected to follow the existing agreements, more effort must be put into preparing for Trump.

In this context, the Yoon administration is accelerating the institutionalization of significant achievements drawn with the Biden administration, such as the Nuclear Consultation Group. They are working to ensure that the agreements between Korea and the U.S. are irreversibly implemented, regardless of the change in the U.S. administration.

Furthermore, considering its relationship with the Biden administration, the Yoon administration is putting more weight on behind-the-scenes contact with Trump.

Ha Kyung-Seok, a vice research fellow at the National Strategy Institute, stated in Korea’s Security Risks and Response Directions following the U.S. Election report that the Yoon administration’s national security strategy coincides with the current U.S. administration’s foreign strategy. If Biden is re-elected, there are expected to be no significant changes.

On the other hand, if Trump is re-elected, he predicted that there could be pressure for transactional relationships with allies, a suggestion of a possible withdrawal of U.S. troops from Korea, and a retry of top-down negotiations with North Korea.

Trump has previously stated in an interview with Time magazine in April that “If Korea does not bear more defense costs, U.S. troops in Korea could be withdrawn.”

Victor Cha, senior vice president for Asia and Korea Chair at Center for Strategic and International Studies, predicted in a Foreign Affairs article published on the 26th titled America’s Asian Partners Aren’t Worried Enough About Trump that “Trump will treat America’s historic allies as trade adversaries, not partners, and will try to become friends with dictatorial and hostile leaders like Kim Jong Un, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.”

It is emphasized that Korea must find a response strategy focusing on the fact that Trump approaches all issues intuitively and transactionally.

In an interview with Voice of America, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said, “I think Korea now understands Trump’s transactional nature,” and “Moon did not. He approached it like a lawyer, and how a lawyer submits a brief did not work with Trump.” He added, “I think the relationship will be much better if Trump wins with Yoon.”

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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