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Seoul goes all out to foster Trump ties

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory, Seoul officials are setting out to build a communication channel with the president-elect to promote policy understanding and coordination.

The Foreign Ministry has since last June been running a task force under Deputy Minister for Political Affairs Kim Hyoung-zhin, with two teams responsible for monitoring and making contact with the campaigns of Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

The election results pose new challenges for the team, which needs to find a point man for foreign affairs and security on the Trump side and make sure his controversial remarks -- such as on “unfair” defense burden sharing and North Korea -- do not translate into actual policy.

Following President Park Geun-hye’s phone call with Trump on Thursday, the ministry is considering dispatching a high-level official to Washington for policy consultations, officials said.

Donald Trump (Yonhap)

Donald Trump (Yonhap)
“There is a pressing need for us to speak with them to turn our views into theirs and ensure the two countries’ policy lines over North Korea and alliance issues are in step, but the problem is with whom,” a senior ministry official said, citing the Trump camp’s limited pool of foreign and security affairs advisers relative to Clinton’s.

But the diplomat displayed a reserved view on the Japanese Prime Minister’s reported push for a meeting with Trump in New York on Nov. 17 in addition to a five-day visit to Washington by his special adviser Katsuyuki Kawai.

“We should be prudent and take other factors into account, because it would also take time for those in the Trump transition team to sort out their thoughts, and we need to respect the incumbent Barack Obama administration,” the official added.

Among the potential candidates for the next secretary of state are Bob Corker, chairman of the senate foreign relations committee; John Bolton, a former ambassador to the UN under the George W. Bush administration; Ed Feulner, a former president of the Heritage Foundation; and Richard Haass, president at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Sen. Jeff Sessions and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, are being floated for the defense secretary post. Former House intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers also may take a top intelligence job. 

The ministry said it has held more than 100 meetings this year alone with Feulner, Haass, Rogers and other figures through its embassy and consulates-general in the US and during their trips to Seoul.

Despite Trump’s erratic comments on North Korea, the advisers indicated continuity in Washington’s approach during the talks, highlighting the need to ramp up sanctions and pressure to change the regime’s course, officials said.

But they acknowledged the possibility of greater pressure to up spending for the upkeep of some 28,500 US troops here given Trump’s demands on the campaign trail for an increase from the current arrangement of paying around 50 percent to 100 percent.

“Talks of one kind or another came out in the run-up to the election, but for them to be made into concrete policy, it would take various processes,” another ministry official told reporters on customary condition of anonymity.

“The president-elect would have his own belief but it would have to be blended with the Republican Party’s conventional policy lines enshrined in its platform, including its support for the alliances, and during the process we will strive to promote our positions on issues of our interest.”

Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, underscored the need for officials to focus on consolidating their logic to better convince the transition team, such as of Seoul’s contribution to the alliance and the significance of the bilateral trade pact.

“The substance of policy, not personnel connections, should be the central point of debate. We need to examine how to prepare on the core issues,” he said during a roundtable hosted Thursday by the think tank.

“(The Trump team) has no clear picture on North Korea and other policy, so levelheaded handling is key. ... In order for us to persuade the US, domestic political instability is necessary.”

By Shin Hyon-hee  (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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