Kim-Xi Friendship Contrasts Starkly with U.S.-South Korea Tensions

      January 14, 2019 13:41

      China and North Korea showed off their rock-solid alliance with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's latest trip to Beijing and said they will "jointly research" the complicated process of denuclearization talks. The neighbors mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, and Chinese President Xi Jinping may visit Pyongyang for the first time later this year. Last year, China kept its distance, but now the uneasy bedfellows are putting on a show of unity as Kim's second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump approaches.

      The two are standing shoulder-to-shoulder because they hope for a reduced U.S. military presence in South Korea. During their first summit last year, Trump promised Kim to halt annual joint military drills with South Korea without even consulting his own military brass, let alone South Korea. That was an unexpected gift to China, which is chiefly concerned with weakening U.S. control over East Asia, while Trump's primary focus is reducing American taxpayers' spending on American military ventures abroad. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has stepped down amid signs of sweeping American retrenchment, and with him the last defense of the U.S.' military alliance with South Korea has also gone. North Korea and China will surely take advantage of this vacuum.

      Without the "adult in the room," Trump could end up wreaking havoc on South Korea's national security because he wants to achieve some kind of result in denuclearization talks with North Korea and trade negotiations with China. The South Korean government should be doing everything in its power to stay Trump's hand and show that it is a worthwhile partner. But in reality things are going exactly the opposite way. South Korea and the U.S. held 10 rounds of talks last year to decide on how much each side should spend to keep U.S. troops here as a deterrent to North Korean aggression. But Trump insists on having South Korea cover a drastically increased portion of the budget.

      In Seoul, meanwhile, President Moon Jae-in hinted at reopening the joint-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex and resuming tours to the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang resort despite international sanctions. Almost immediately, the U.S. voiced concerns that the measures could "worsen" Seoul-Washington ties and confuse efforts to get the North to scrap its nuclear weapons. The U.S. is suspicious that South Korea intends to weaken the sanctions, which are the only leverage in dealing with the North.

      The latest developments are nothing short of alarming. The U.K. and France have decided to dispatch warships to Japan to prevent North Korean smuggling in oil and arms on the high seas. The move is also aimed at curbing China’s expansionist ambitions in the region. Since the Korean War, the South has relied for the defense of its borders on the U.S., and that enabled its miraculous economic revival. But while Kim and Xi put on a big show of friendship, and friendly letters were exchanged between Trump and Kim and Kim and Moon, there has been no news of any engagement between the leaders of South Korea and the U.S.

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