The Korea Herald

ssg
피터빈트

Trump’s return to White House may increase Seoul-Pyongyang engagement: expert

By Sanjay Kumar

Published : Jan. 1, 2024 - 13:47

    • Link copied

Former US President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) shake hands after signing an agreement at a historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (Ministry of the Interior and Safety Presidential Archives) Former US President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) shake hands after signing an agreement at a historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (Ministry of the Interior and Safety Presidential Archives)

US former President Donald Trump’s return to the White House may increase Seoul-Pyongyang diplomatic engagement, according to an expert on US-Asia relations and foreign policy.

Ted Gover, director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University, said in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul last month, that President Joe Biden's re-election would likely keep the status quo of diplomatic relations, which have yielded little and have come close to being frozen.

“However, if Trump returns to the White House, it is conceivable that Kim Jong-un may be open to rekindling discussions with Trump," he said.

"Such a development may increase diplomatic engagement between Seoul and Pyongyang."

But he noted that whether it is Biden or Trump, the US will maintain strong deterrence measures against the North and will live up to its responsibilities under the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and South Korea.

Ted Gover, an expert of US-Asian relations and foreign policy, and director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at Mondrian Hotel in Yongsan-gu, Seoul. (Sanjay Kumar/ The Korea Herald) Ted Gover, an expert of US-Asian relations and foreign policy, and director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at Mondrian Hotel in Yongsan-gu, Seoul. (Sanjay Kumar/ The Korea Herald)

The US and South Korea signed a Mutual Defense Treaty on October 1, 1953. The treaty establishes a mutual commitment to respond to any armed attack in the Pacific area on either country, recognizing it as a threat to their peace and safety.

"Biden and Trump share the same objectives of deterring North Korean aggression and working closely with both South Korea and Japan as a show of solidarity against Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aggressive military maneuvering in the region and economic coercion practices,” the expert noted.

In August 2023, during the Camp David Summit, the United States, South Korea and Japan reached an agreement to strengthen military and economic cooperation. The three nations issued a joint condemnation of China, denouncing its "dangerous and aggressive behavior" in the South China Sea.

“Washington will continue with its stepped-up nuclear deterrence measures under the Washington Declaration, which include periodically docking US nuclear-armed submarines in South Korea,” he said.

Former South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and Former US President Donald Trump held a historic meeting on June 30, 2019 at Panmunjom. (Cheong Wa Dae) Former South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and Former US President Donald Trump held a historic meeting on June 30, 2019 at Panmunjom. (Cheong Wa Dae)

The declaration sets up a Nuclear Consultative Group to enhance extended deterrence, engage in discussions related to nuclear and strategic planning, and address the threat North Korea poses to the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

“If Trump comes to power, I think the Washington-Seoul-Tokyo partnership will cease in its efforts to counter North Korea’s supply of weapons to Russia for its war in Ukraine, due to Trump’s opposition to further assistance for Kyiv,” said Gover.

Trump has not committed to continuing military assistance for Ukraine and claims he can quickly resolve the conflict, asserting his good relationships with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Gover also noted that progress in denuclearization talks with North Korea seems unlikely.

“While negotiations may take place, it is unlikely that the North will agree to denuclearize as Kim views his nuclear arsenal as the key to the survival of himself and the Kim Dynasty,” he said.

“The 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein and violent end of Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi in 2011 provided useful lessons for Kim on the need to maintain nuclear deterrence to preserve his life and that of the regime,” he said.

Former US President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) holds a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (Ministry of the Interior and Safety Presidential Archives) Former US President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) holds a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (Ministry of the Interior and Safety Presidential Archives)

According to Gover, "the next US president," without mentioning who he thinks will be, will support additional restrictions on the trade of sensitive technologies with China which will continue to complicate supply chains and cause headaches for Seoul, Tokyo and elsewhere.

Asked about the next administration's stance on North Korean human rights, he noted that if Trump is re-elected, human rights discussions would be downplayed, citing Trump's past meetings with Kim Jong-un where the issue was not a focal point.

Gover suggested that a Trump presidency might involve pressure on Seoul to contribute more financially to the US military presence in South Korea, though Gover views it as a bargaining tactic rather than a genuine intent to withdraw troops.

“I think it was a bargaining tactic -- albeit a damaging one -- used in an attempt to coerce Seoul to pay greater amounts to Washington each year,” the expert told The Korea Herald, recalling similar demands made for Tokyo and NATO during Trump's previous tenure.

Ted Gover, an expert of US-Asian relations and foreign policy, and director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at Mondrian Hotel in Yongsan-gu, Seoul. (Sanjay Kumar/ The Korea Herald) Ted Gover, an expert of US-Asian relations and foreign policy, and director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at Mondrian Hotel in Yongsan-gu, Seoul. (Sanjay Kumar/ The Korea Herald)

There is uncertainty about whether Trump, if he returns to power, would seek to renegotiate the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) for a second time, said Gover.

The first renegotiation in 2018 resulted in only minor changes to the original agreement, but Gover suggests that Trump's focus on protectionist trade policies appears to be more directed toward agreements with other countries rather than Korea.

“Trump may seek an updated and better deal if he returns to power,” said Gover.