The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Trump nominates Victor Cha as ambassador to Seoul

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Dec. 11, 2017 - 15:57

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The Donald Trump administration has nominated former White House official and Washington-based academic Victor Cha as the next US ambassador to South Korea and asked for Seoul’s approval, US sources said Sunday.

According to sources in Washington, the request was recently delivered to the South Korean government in the form of an “agrement,” a formal request sent to the receiving state from the sending state before dispatching a diplomatic representative. The decision was made after an extensive vetting process, it added.
Victor Cha (A screengrab from Center for Strategic and International Studies Website) Victor Cha (A screengrab from Center for Strategic and International Studies Website)

The overall process is expected to move swiftly in a bid to fill the post which has been left vacant since US President Donald Trump took office in January. The nominee’s appointment will be subjected to a US Senate confirmation hearing soon, which may allow Cha to take office before the PyeongChang Olympics here in February.

If named, Cha will succeed Mark Lippert, who served in Seoul under the Obama administration.

“We are working closely (with the US government) to enable (Cha) to take office early,” an official at South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said.

“We cannot confirm whether the agreement has been sent and any relevant procedures at this stage.”

Cha is a former director for Asian affairs on the White House National Security Council and served as deputy head of the US delegation in multilateral talks with North Korea over its nuclear program during the administration of President George W. Bush.

He now serves the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

If Cha is appointed, he is slated to become the second Korean-American to take the post after Ambassador Sung Kim. He has been widely seen as a strong candidate since August.

The news of Cha’s nomination comes amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea’s missile launch on Nov. 29. The rogue nation claimed it was a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile while experts said it could put the US mainland within its target range.

It also comes mere days ahead of President Moon Jae-in’s scheduled summit with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Cha is a supporter of a policy of “hawkish engagement” against North Korea, also referred to as “containment-plus-engagement.” It calls for strong US engagement in North Korean issues and negotiation which can benefit both sides, but also justifies a more aggressive approach if the other side breaks their terms.

Cha has highlighted China’s relationship with the North as a core factor that could influence Pyongyang’s fast-developing weapons program.

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post last July, Cha said China must play a key role in the international community’s approach toward North Korea.

“We should tell China that it has to pay to play. The basic trade would be Chinese disbursements to Pyongyang, as well as security assurances, in return for constraints on North Korea’s program. China would be paying not just for North Korean coal, but for North Korean compliance,” it said.

He is also against a “freeze-for-freeze” offer proposed by China which asks the US to halt its regular military exercises, in return for a North Korean nuclear freeze.

At a conference held earlier this year in Seoul, Cha said the Donald Trump administration must not rely solely on sanctions and diplomatic isolation in dealing with the North, noting that Pyongyang’s nuclear program is no longer “small.”

“With regard to diplomacy, no US policy should be composed of only sanctions, military exercises and diplomatic isolation,” he said.

“The portfolio of pressure and diplomacy in the administration of the past 25 years has been ineffective.”

By Jung Min-kyung (