[Editorial] Korea needs to adjust diplomatic course in preparation for a Trump comeback

Posted on : 2024-07-02 17:25 KST Modified on : 2024-07-02 17:25 KST
The disastrous debate for Biden has made the possibility of a second Trump administration all the more likely
Former US President Donald Trump and US President Joe Biden during the first televised presidential debate for the 2024 election, aired on CNN on June 27, 2024. (Yonhap)
Former US President Donald Trump and US President Joe Biden during the first televised presidential debate for the 2024 election, aired on CNN on June 27, 2024. (Yonhap)

After the first televised US presidential debate ended in what many have criticized as an unmitigated disaster for incumbent Joe Biden, the Yoon Suk-yeol administration in Korea, with its single-minded focus on strengthening relations with the US and Japan, finds a crisis at its doorstep.

Although the results of the November US presidential election are not yet set in stone, it is becoming clear that the race is no longer as close as it once appeared.
 
The Yoon administration needs to pull out all the stops to prepare for the devastating impact another Donald Trump presidency could have on the Korean Peninsula.
 
During the debate on Thursday, the 81-year-old Biden was shown briefly rambling incoherently at Trump, who is four years his junior. This demonstration of frailty on a public platform shocked the entire world.
 
The very next day, the New York Times editorial board published an editorial titled, “To Serve His Country, President Biden Should Leave the Race,” while CBS reported on Saturday that 72% of the US public was in favor of Biden dropping out of the race for the White House.
 
While Biden has dismissed calls for him to drop out, many are arguing that there’s a need to find a replacement.
 
Since taking office, Biden has emphasized solidarity among democracies in opposition to authoritarian states. Yoon has followed in lockstep, placing values-based diplomacy at the forefront of his agenda and even taking the first steps toward a trilateral alliance between South Korea, the US and Japan at the Camp David summit in August 2023.
 
In contrast, Trump echoed his trademark “America First” catchphrase to call for an early end to the war in Ukraine and the imposition of a 60% universal tariff on imports from China. If elected, he’s expected to either reduce US troop presence in South Korea or withdraw them entirely and implement economic and trade policies that will force his allies to make sacrifices.
 
Such plans, if they come to fruition, will cause US leadership in the world to falter, which in turn will render Yoon’s self-styled “diplomatic achievements,” including the strengthening of the South Korea-US alliance, futile. 
 
South Korea will be no better than a rifleman who, confident that the US has his back, rushes into his opponent’s camp — composed of North Korea, China and Russia — only to find himself alone. 
 
Victor Cha, the senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote an article for Foreign Affairs titled, “America’s Asian Partners Are Not Worried Enough About Trump,” on June 26.
 
Cha pointed out that the Korean Peninsula would be the region that would experience the most fundamental change due to the possibility of armed conflict. He called attention to how, if Trump’s second presidency prompts South Korea to pursue its own nuclear weapons program, it is highly likely that China and North Korea could “preempt” South Korea’s capabilities.
 
It would not be hyperbole to call this situation a national emergency. The government needs to stop making haphazard moves and rationally prepare for what may come so as to protect South Korea’s national interest.

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