S. Korea media warn of ‘Trump risk’ to alliance

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Donald Trump
President
Donald Trump speaks at Snap-On Tools, Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in
Kenosha, Wis.

AP Photo/Kiichiro
Sato


Seoul (AFP) – South Korean media on Monday warned of a “Trump
risk” threatening the alliance between Washington and Seoul amid
high tensions over the North’s weapons ambitions.

The two countries are bound by a defence pact and 28,500 US
troops are stationed in the South.

But the new US president has said in recent interviews that Seoul
should pay for a “billion-dollar” US missile defence system being
deployed in the South to guard against threats from the
nuclear-armed North. 

He has also pushed for renegotiation of what he called a
“horrible” bilateral free trade pact that went into effect five
years ago, calling it an “unacceptable… deal made by Hillary”.
 

The remarks stunned Seoul, with South Korean politicians
immediately rejecting his push for payment for the Terminal High
Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery.

Tensions are high over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes
— it has ambitions to develop a rocket that can deliver a
warhead to the US mainland — and threats on both sides have
raised fears of conflict.

“Trump’s mouth rattling Korea-US alliance” said a front-page
headline in South Korea’s top-selling Chosun daily on Monday.

“There are issues that are far more important than just money,”
it said in an editorial. 

“If either country keeps reducing the alliance to the matter
of money or the economy, it is bound to undermine basic trust.”

Seoul, it said, needed to come up with “various Plan Bs” for the
future.

The THAAD system is being installed at a former golf course in
the South.

This has infuriated China, which sees it as compromising its own
capabilities and has responded with a series of measures seen as
economic retaliation, even as Washington looks to Beijing to rein
in Pyongyang.

Trump told CBS on Sunday that if the North carried out a sixth
nuclear test he “would not be happy”.

“And I can tell you also, I don’t believe that the president of
China, who is a very respected man, will be happy either,” Trump
said.

“We’ll see” whether that signified military action, said Trump,
who also described the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un as a “pretty
smart cookie”.


Kim Jong Un
North
Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives for the official opening of the
Ryomyong residential area, Thursday, April 13, 2017, in
Pyongyang, North Korea.

AP Photo/Wong
Maye-E


‘Pain and backlash’

Over the weekend Seoul’s presidential office said US National
Security Advisor H.R. McMaster had appeared to backtrack on
THAAD, telling his South Korean counterpart by phone that the US
would bear the cost of the missile deployment as initially
agreed.  

But McMaster told Fox News Sunday that the “last thing” he would
ever do was contradict the president, and that “the relationship
on THAAD, on our defence relationship going forward, will be
renegotiated as it’s going to be with all of our allies”.

Another major South Korean newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, accused
Trump’s administration of sending “confusing and contradictory
messages”, creating a “chaotic situation” that dealt a “huge
blow” to the bilateral alliance.

“The US must be well aware of the pain and backlash Seoul has
endured to push for the THAAD deployment,” it added.

Asked in the Fox News interview about the possibility of mass
casualties in South Korea the event of conflict — Seoul is
within range of the North’s conventional artillery — McMaster
responded: “What the president has first and foremost on his mind
is to protect the American people.”

Another major daily, Dong-A Ilbo, declared on its front page
Monday: “Trump Risk… we need to come up with new strategy for
Korea-US alliance”.

The US president was pouring “a barrage of verbal bombs” on Seoul
in a challenge to its next leader, who will be elected on May
9. 

“We hope that Trump will be more careful with his words,” it said
in an editorial. “Who’s going to smile if our alliance is
shaken? It will be North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and China’s Xi
Jinping.”



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