Seoul (GPA) – After upsetting both adversaries and allies by moving a missile defense system to South Korea, Trump is now demanding payment for his idea.
This week saw the arrival of a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system that was delivered to South Korea ahead of schedule under orders of the Trump administration. The deployment of this system is causing tension between Russia, China and the US but is also opposed by many South Koreans, who are probably more upset by its presence following yesterday’s statements by Donald Trump.
With the THAAD system expected to be operational within days, Trump is beginning to send confusing signals on what exactly his position is on the crucial US alliance with South Korea. Despite the fact that “solving the North Korean question for good” is a goal that Trump wants to be the president to achieve he is now calling on South Korea to finance a conflict he flared back.
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trump said he now expects South Korea to hand over about one billion dollars for the defense system being provided by the US. The fact that the THAAD system isn’t being bought or given to Seoul (and again, was Trump’s idea) had seemingly no effect on the US president from informing “South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid. It’s a billion-dollar system.” The system will be operated by the US military and the only involvement Seoul has is loaning the land to US forces.
Seoul quickly responded to this unprecedented demand, making it clear that they hadn’t intended, previously been asked and didn’t plan on paying for the THAAD deployment – in Seoul’s words, it is “impossible.” The THAAD system is already deployed so it’s strange for Trump to come out demanding money this late in the process.
Most likely this is a show, meant to provide Trump’s base with the illusion that he is sticking to his campaign promise of making US allies pay “their fair share” in defense agreements. This comes at a bad time, especially considering Trump’s recent bluff concerning an “armada” that was allegedly headed towards Korea that resulted in a weekend that could’ve potentially ended in a nuclear incident. It was later discovered that the Navy battle group Trump had been referring to, unbeknownst to South Korea or Japan, was 3,000 miles away.
On top of this misdirection, Trump also doubled down on his hostile rhetoric concerning current trade deals with South Korea. It was probably apparent to all parties in the THAAD dispute that South Korea wasn’t going to pay, which caused Trump to threaten that if the country didn’t he would consider withdrawing from the “horrible” free trade agreement with Seoul.
All of this is happening at the same time as South Koreans prepare to go to the polls in two weeks to elect a new president following the ouster of the previous administration due to corruption charges. The front runner in next month’s election is from the liberal opposition party, who is campaigning on repairing of diplomatic ties with the North and reopening economic cooperation between the two halves of the peninsula.
This means that Trump’s window for making a decisive move to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program is likely closing fast. Trump is seriously endangering the relationship with the ally that is the most essential in solving the issue of North Korea, and it’s likely he’s alienating Japan as well. Yesterday’s demands just show that the Trump administration doesn’t just disrespect enemies, but friends as well and should leave everyone questioning if the US has any kind of plan for after a possible confrontation with Kim Jong Un.
Also published on Medium.