South Korea bracing for challenges ahead in unpredictable Trump era

A newspaper display features Donald Trump and coverage of the US presidential elections, in Seoul, South Korea. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - Even as South Korea's acting president Hwang Kyo Ahn congratulated United States President Donald Trump on his inauguration and expressed hopes of deepening the Seoul-Washington security alliance, observers and analysts have warned of the challenges ahead in an unpredictable Trump era.

Mr Hwang, in his letter to Mr Trump on Friday (Jan 20), underscored the importance of close cooperation between the two countries towards common goals, including North Korea's recurring nuclear issue. But some media reports have cast doubts on whether Mr Trump can deftly resolve North Korea's nuclear issue, amid recent signs that Pyongyang's nuclear development programme has gained speed.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said that Mr Trump has "put the rest of the world on edge" with his protectionist stance and unorthodox ways, adding that his policies on North Korea, security alliances and trade are "key points to watch".

English daily The Korea Herald noted that the country's "withering economy will be put to the test" after Mr Trump takes office, while JoongAng Ilbo, a Korean-language daily, warned that "our relations with the US will face a challenge as Trump will most likely call for us to assume a bigger share in the cost of US forces here and a renegotiation of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement".

Meanwhile, the South Korean government is closely monitoring the new Trump administration's moves. Finance Minister Yoo Il Ho told reporters on Friday (Jan 20) that he will watch Mr Trump's inauguration for signs of change in trade and economic issues.

Concerns have also arisen over the recall of US ambassador Mark Lippert and that a vacuum in the position of Washington's top envoy to Korea could hamper communication between the two countries.

Mr Lippert, who is known to be close to former US president Barack Obama, left on Friday (Jan 20). Analysts said it could take several months before the Trump administration decides on a new envoy.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.