US President Donald Trump’s state visit to South Korea was significant in that it came amid a grave security situation on the Korean Peninsula with North Korea, which is on the brink of completing its nuclear and missile programs.
President Moon Jae-in’s surprise visit to Camp Humphreys, a US army base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, to greet President Trump upon his arrival shows how important he considered Trump’s visit to Korea. The two leaders sent a clear message of South Korea and the US working together by having lunch at the camp together with service men and women of the US forces in Korea.
Also, that Trump was the first US president to deliver a speech at the National Assembly in 24 years and that South Korea was the only country on his Asian trip where he addressed the parliament reflected the weight of the Korea-US alliance.
Though Trump stayed in South Korea for just about 25 hours as part of his first trip to Asia since his inauguration, his visit produced substantial outcomes.
There were worries until shortly before the summit that Moon and Trump might reveal discord over their responses to North Korean nuclear and missile threats, South Korean government positions for the restoration of its ties with China, Moon’s balanced diplomacy and trade pressure from the US, but most of the worries turned out to be unfounded.
Both leaders reaffirmed solid cooperation between their countries over North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations. Moon and Trump agreed to maintain maximum pressure and sanctions on the communist state so that it cannot help but to give up its nukes and come to the table for denuclearization talks.
Considering that Trump has sometimes mentioned military options against North Korea, it is meaningful that he expressed his support for the Moon administration’s principle of a peaceful resolution to the North Korea problem.
Last week, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that military options must be on the agenda because of the North Korean threats.
Whether the two leaders discussed military options or not was unknown, but the options seem to be sidelined for now.
Trump prioritized nonmilitary means as of now, saying he would use “all available tools short of military action.”
However, he has not taken military options off the table.
In his address to the National Assembly, Trump emphasized that peace should be secured through strength. He vowed not to allow North Korean attacks on US allies. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must heed his warning not to underestimate the US.
The most effective realistic response to North Korean threats is the strongest pressure and sanctions rather than military might which may cause calamity on the Korean Peninsula.
And yet Kim must keep in mind that his reckless use of nukes will immediately lead to the end of his regime.
Concerns about South Korea being passed over and Moon’s balanced diplomacy were eased as well.
Trump promised not to exclude South Korea, calling it a very important ally the US trusts. Moon made clear he had no intention of walking a tight rope between Washington and Beijing. He said that his balanced diplomacy is intended to enlist China’s cooperation over North Korea’s nukes.
Among eye-catching outcomes are agreements that South Korea will buy a sizable amount of the most advanced US weapons and that the US will allow South Korea to increase its missile payloads without limit.
Nuclear submarines and cutting-edge reconnaissance assets are expected on the list of US weapons South Korea may buy.
Washington may have demanded Seoul purchase its arms to help reduce its trade deficits with South Korea. But the South needs to buy high-tech US weapons to raise its guard against escalating threats from the North.
Still, there are many obstacles to clear toward a “great Korea-US alliance.”
A great alliance cannot be formed with resolutions alone. It will become a reality on the basis of mutual trust and understanding between the two leaders and their elaborate strategies to maximize common interests.
The Moon-Trump summit in Seoul should be the starting point of closer ties.