WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – US President Donald Trump called for a determined response to North Korea after talks with South Korean President Moon Jae In on Friday (June 30) at which he emphasised the importance of their alliance but took aim at Seoul over trade and sharing the cost of defence.
Trump said the United States was renegotiating what he characterised as a “rough” trade deal with South Korea agreed five years ago by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and reiterated that an era of “strategic patience” over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes had ended.
“Together we are facing the threat of the reckless and brutal regime in North Korea. The nuclear and ballistic missile programmes of that regime required a determined response,” Trump said while standing alongside Moon in the White House Rose Garden.
“We’re working closely with South Korea and Japan, as well as partners around the world, on a range of diplomatic, security and economic measures to protect our allies and our own citizens from this menace known as North Korea,” he said.
Moon said he and Trump had placed top priority on the North Korean issue and urged Pyongyang to return promptly to talks.
“President Trump and I agreed that only strong security can bring about genuine peace,” Moon said. “The threat and provocation of the North will be met with a stern response.”
“Our two leaders will employ both sanctions and dialogue in a phased and comprehensive approach” in an effort to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, Moon added.
Both Trump and Moon have said they are open to renewed dialogue with North Korea, but only under the circumstances that will lead to North Korea giving up its weapons programmes.
While South Korea is a long-standing ally of the United States, Trump has spoken harshly about US trade imbalances and threatened to tear up the bilateral trade pact.
STEEL AND AUTOS
“We will do more to remove barriers to reciprocal trade and market access,” Trump said, adding that the two leaders had talked about the thorny trade areas of steel and autos.
“I am encouraged by President Moon’s assurances that he will work to create a level playing field so that American workers and businesses, and especially automakers, can have a fair shake at dealing with South Korea,” he said.
The US goods trade deficit with South Korea has more than doubled since the KORUS pact took effect in 2012, from US$13.2 billion in 2011 to US$27.7 billion (S$38 billion) in 2016. It was forecast to boost US exports by US$10 billion a year, but they were US$3 billion lower in 2016 than in 2011.
At the start of Friday’s talks, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the largest component of the deficit was automotive trade and that many non-tariff barriers to US auto exports to South Korea remained.
“There are a lot of various and specific problems, and I think the way to address it is to deal product-by-product with what we can do to change the export side and what we can do to reduce the bad imports side,” he said.
Trump stressed the need to ensure equitable sharing of costs for defense, returning to a theme he had raised during his campaign that he has also brought up with other allies, including Nato countries and Japan.
While Trump emphasised the point, a senior US official who held a briefing before the President’s meeting with Moon said South Korea was in many respects a “model ally,” given its spending of 2.7 per cent of GDP on defence and Moon’s plan to grow capabilities.
“Burden-sharing is always going to be part of the conversation with our allies. President Trump has made that clear. But we shouldn’t view South Korea as somehow laggard on that front,” said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
Moon said he had had “candid and lengthy” talks with Trump and that the meetings had been a great opportunity “to further trust and friendship.”
He said Seoul would strive to strengthen joint defence capabilities and pursue defence reform to build up its own capacity to defend itself.
He did not mention the trade issue, but on Wednesday said that unfair trade practices would be eradicated and factors that limited competition, such as barriers to market entry and price regulations, would be re-evaluated under his administration.