Donald Trump and Moon Jae-in present united front on North Korea ... but clash over trade
Moon suggested that if North Korea released three Americans it is currently holding, it could spur talks, as could a freeze on missile and nuclear tests
US President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in showed joint resolve on North Korea on Friday despite their divergent philosophies for addressing the nuclear threat, yet the US opened up a new front of discord by demanding a renegotiation of a landmark 2012 trade pact between the two countries.
Concluding two days of meetings at the White House, Trump and Moon each delivered tough talk opposing North Korea’s development of atomic weapons that could soon threaten both allies.
The “reckless and brutal regime” requires a determined reply, Trump said. And Moon, who has long advocated outreach to Pyongyang, vowed a “stern response” to provocation, promising to coordinate closely with Trump as he looks to intensify economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea.
“Together, we are facing the threat of the reckless and brutal regime in North Korea. The nuclear and ballistic missile programmes of that regime require a determined response,” Trump said. “The North Korean dictatorship has no regard for the safety and security of its people, for its neighbours and has no respect for human life.”
Moon said there was no dispute between his government and Trump over the nature of the threat posed by North Korea.
“The gravest challenge confronting our two nations is the nuclear and missile threat posed by North Korea,” he said. “President Trump and I decided to place a top priority on addressing this issue, and coordinate closely on relevant policies.
“To this end, we will employ both sanctions and dialogue in a phased and comprehensive approach... to seek a fundamental resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem.”
Trump urged all nations to join the US in imposing sanctions to starve North Korea of resources for its nuclear and missile programmes. He demanded North Korea “choose a better path and do it quickly, and a different future for its long-suffering people”.
“Our goal is peace, stability and prosperity for the region – but the United States will defend itself, always will defend itself – always,” Trump said. “And we will always defend our allies.”
Speaking later at a Washington think tank, Moon suggested that if North Korea released three Americans it is currently holding, it could spur talks, as could a freeze on missile and nuclear tests. But he ruled out the possibility of stopping US-South Korean military drills in exchange for the freeze.
While the two leaders avoided a potential conflict on the most burning national security crisis facing each country, they showed little harmony on trade.
Summoning the economic nationalism that has marked much of his international agenda, Trump highlighted America’s trade imbalance with South Korea. Two-way trade in goods and services was US$144 billion last year, with the US running a US$17 billion deficit.
“The fact is that the United States has trade deficits with many, many countries, and we cannot allow that to continue,” Trump said. “And we’ll start with South Korea right now.”
Ahead of their first face-to-face discussions, South Korean companies announced plans to invest USUS$12.8 billion in the US over the next half-decade. Nevertheless, Trump wasn’t placated. He said the two sides would renegotiate a 2012 free trade agreement, calling it a “rough deal” for America, echoing the sentiments he has voiced about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The White House later confirmed Trump has asked his trade representative to begin the process of renegotiation.
Trump accused Seoul of helping steel reach the US at unfairly low prices. It was an apparently reference to Chinese steel. Trump also demanded that market barriers to US auto makers be lifted to give them “a fair shake at dealing with South Korea.”
To rub it in, Trump called on his top economic officials to address their grievances to Moon in front of journalists.
Despite the trade tensions, Trump and Moon sought to establish a personal bond.
Moon praised the American as a man of “determination and pragmatism,” and said Trump had accepted an invitation to visit South Korea with first lady Melania Trump later this year. Trump declared their relationship “very, very good”.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse