President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump during a press conference at the White House Rose Garden in Washington DC after their summit
The South Korea-US summit has generally been heralded as a success, but for a moment South Korean officials were sweating bullets.
The tete-a-tete between President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump and the extended summit on the morning of June 30 went smoothly enough. There were no major disagreements about issues such as North Korea’s nuclear program, and the discussion of the trade balance dragged on for a while but ended with the two sides confirming the principle of reciprocal trade. During their meeting, Trump described his relationship with Moon Jae-in as being “very, very good” and even said that Moon had “great chemistry.”
The trouble began when Trump made unexpected remarks during the joint press briefing held in the Rose Garden in front of the White House after the summit that morning. Trump said that the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) “was up” and that he would do a good job on the negotiations, effectively declaring that the KORUS FTA would be renegotiated. This contradicted a statement by the Blue House claiming that no remarks had been made about renegotiating the KORUS FTA, leading some to declare the summit a failure. Furthermore, since the release of the joint statement was delayed for several hours, speculation was rife that the summit had ended without any results.
While past American governments have released the joint statement at the end of the summit, the Trump administration has often waited for quite some time to do so. The US and Saudi Arabia released their joint statement a full three days after their summit, and the US-China summit concluded without any joint statement being produced.
During the seven hours that elapsed between the end of the press conference and the release of the joint statement, officials at the Blue House couldn’t let their guard down. “The seven hours we had to wait for the [White House‘s] announcement felt like seven years,” wrote Minjoo Party lawmaker Kim Gyeong-su on his Facebook page. Kim accompanied Moon on his trip to the US.
“We thought the joint statement adequately reflected our requests, so we only made generic remarks in the press conference, but Trump specifically mentioned the issue of the trade imbalance between the two countries, including renegotiating the KORUS FTA, which did not appear in the joint statement. The media was writing articles based solely on the text of the joint press conference, while the release of the joint statement kept being pushed back. It was obvious that if the summit ended without a joint statement and with just the joint press conference text, the conservative media would trash the results of the meeting,” Kim wrote.
Blue House officials didn’t get to relax until the White House finally approved the original draft of the joint statement around 7 pm. The joint statement did not make any mention of renegotiating the free trade agreement and only included neutral language about “reciprocal benefits and fair treatment between the two countries” and “fostering a truly fair and level playing field.”
In a phone conversation with National Security Office Chief Chung Eui-yong, US National Security adviser H.R. McMaster reportedly asked that the word “free” be omitted from the name of the sixth clause, which reads, “Advancing Fair Trade to Promote Economic Growth.”
In related news, Moon managed to arrange a previously unscheduled meeting with Senator John McCain, chair of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. Earlier, a Japanese newspaper had reported that McCain had intended to visit South Korea after Moon took office, but that his visit had been scrapped because of Moon’s lack of interest, which the Blue House rebutted by explaining that McCain’s visit had not happened because of conflicting schedules.
“It’s unfortunate that your visit to South Korea didn’t work out because of scheduling issues in May,” Moon said during his meeting with McCain, urging him to “get in touch” when he comes to South Korea.
By Jung Yu-gyung, staff reporter
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