US elections: South Korea braces for uncertainties as Trump presidency could spell trouble

South Koreans watching the US presidential elections at a station in Seoul on Nov 9, 2016.
South Koreans watching the US presidential elections at a station in Seoul on Nov 9, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

South Koreans are bracing themselves for uncertainty ahead as a Trump presidency could spell trouble, even as officials seek to the people that his win would not affect US-Korea ties.

In a major upset on Wednesday (Nov 9), Republican underdog Donald Trump beat his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to be elected as the next President of the United States.

South Korea's National Security Council convened a meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the outcome of the election and its impact on Korea, even as US ambassador Mark Lippert gave the assurance that the US-Korea alliance will continue.

"Our alliance has been strong for over 60 years and I see no change in that," he told reporters at an embassy event to watch the election results live. "The alliance will continue to be strong, and it will continue to grow."

South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se, in a parliament meeting, also assured that Mr Trump would maintain US policy on North Korea. "Trump has indicated that the greatest problem facing the world is the nuclear threat and members of his national security team hold the position that favours applying strong pressure against the North," he said.

The Foreign Ministry also said on Tuesday that "our alliance with the US will move forward" regardless of the election result. A spokesman said they will work closely with the next administration to "ensure policy continuity".

But investor confidence has been shaken. The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index closed at 1,958.36 points, the lowest since July 8. The Korean won also fell to 1,149.5 to the US dollar, down 1.3 per cent from Tuesday (Nov 8).

Finance Minister Yoo Il Ho said at a ministerial meeting in Seoul that the government will push ahead with fiscal policies and address financial risks that can affect the economy due to Mr Trump's victory.

 

Korean media reports also paint a less rosy picture.

State news agency Yonhap, citing experts, said the "stunning victory of Donald Trump casts deep uncertainty over US policy on the Korean Peninsula and beyond as he has campaigned on pledges to overhaul the relations with allies and renegotiate trade deals under his 'America First' policy".

The English-language daily, The Korea Times, in a series of reports titled "Trump Era", warned that the US-Korea trade trade agreement is in "unprecedented jeopardy".

Mr Trump had earlier called the free trade deal a "job killer". He also accused South Korea of getting a defence "free ride" from the US and threatened to pull out the 28,000 US forces stationed here.

He even suggested that South Korea should arm itself with nuclear weapons for self-defence - an idea that has gained traction in South Korea's National Assembly even though it goes against non-proliferation treaties signed by the country.

Sogang University's international relations professor Kim Jae Chun said there are many "important decisions" made in South Korea for the new Trump administration to follow through, like the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-missile system to South Korea to guard against missile threats from the North.

But with a Trump presidency, there is a chance he will break promises, said Prof Kim.

Many Korean-Americans living in South Korea are also upset with the unexpected Trump win. Housewife Jennifer Kim, 33, said she feels frustrated and outraged.

"He is a self-centred, egoistic person who has very little insight in politics. I hope his health will deteriorate so he can't enforce any of his short-sighted pledges." changmc@sph.com.sg