President Donald Trump arrived in South Korea Tuesday for his two-day visit bearing a surprisingly diplomatic message: During a press conference with his South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump surprised his audience by delivering a message to North Korea that was unexpectedly conciliatory.
When asked about the monthslong diplomatic standoff between the two nuclear powers, Trump said he thinks the two countries are “making progress” toward a diplomatic solution, while urging the North Korean leadership to “come to the table and make a deal."
“I think we’re making progress … I do see certain movement, yes, but let’s see what happens,” Trump said in Seoul, where he is spending two days of his 12-day tour of Asia.
Still, Trump noted that the North remains a threat to global order, and that the US stands ready to attack “if need be."
“North Korea is a worldwide threat that requires worldwide action. We call on every responsible nation incuding China and Russia to demand that the North Korean regime end its nuclear weapons and missile programs and live in peace."
All nations must implement UN Security Council regulations and cease trade with the “increasingly dangerous regime."
“It makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and to make a deal that’s good for the people of North Korea,” he said. Rather than give a specific update on recent developments over the North’s nuclear programme he said he preferred to “play our cards close to the vest."
However, he also stressed the urgency of the situation, saying it’s time to act with “great determination” to finally resolve the simmering conflict.
Turning to the nature of the military relationship between the two countries, Trump praised South Korea’s plans to purchase billions of dollars’ worth of American military hardware. The visiting president said he learned from his aides that the “amount of equipment and things you will be ordering from the United States will substantially increase, and therefore bringing the trade deficit down, which is very important to our people.”
“We have trade deficits with numerous countries and we don't want trade deficits, so we appreciate that very much,” Trump said, according to Yonhap.
Of course, the tone of Trump’s remarks is less surprising when one considers that he and Moon - whom the president has praised as a strong leader and ally - couldn’t be further apart in their opinions about the North. Moon was elected on a platform of increased dialogue and openness with the North, while Trump’s bellicose rhetoric has fostered fears in the international community that he could tip the US into a nuclear conflict with the restive state. One reason for his Asia tour, according to the White House, was for Trump to try and rally the North’s regional neighbors to take a harder line in condemning and economically punishing the so-called hermit kingdom.
"Some people have said my rhetoric is very strong, but look at what's happened over the last 25 years with weak rhetoric," Trump said.
Trump had previously tweeted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was "Wasting his time" pursuing a dialogue with the North, hinting that "only one thing will work.'
Trump has criticized Moon for his soft stance in the past, once tweeting that Moon was "appeasing" the North Korean regime.
South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2017
As CNN pointed out, Trump didn’t offer any specific signs of progress, noting that his administration likes "to play our cards a little bit close to the vest."
According to the Guardian, many in central Seoul were unhappy at Trump’s arrival. Throngs of protesters lined the streets outside the meeting, some holding signs that said: “No war, yes peace”. Others expressed their opposition to the deployment of the US missile defense system, THAAD. Many residents of the villages where the THAAD systems are based believe the installation could make their homes a target should a conflict erupt.
“We should never trust someone who said a war will be not on US soil,” Kim Jun-sung, a protester, told the Guardian.
Seung Hee-han, a member of the People’s Democratic party, had been on a hunger strike for two days, holding a poster that compared Trump with Adolf Hitler. ]
“South Koreans are accustomed to living with the threat of war, the main difference now is Trump and his tendency to increase tensions with Kim Jong-un,” said Won-thaek Kang, a politics professor at Seoul National University. “I hope he can see what Seoul is like, a vibrant and thriving city, and that he will realise how damaging a war would be for us."
But not everyone was opposed to Trump’s visit. In the days before Trump arrived, nationalist protesters erected a sign on the pavement outside the US embassy in Seoul that read: “Mr Trump, we are not afraid to die. We want you to strike North Korea now!"
“Trump needs to do something about North Korea right now,” said Kim Min-su, a preacher at the All World Church who was waving a US flag in one hand and a South Korean flag in the other. “People in North Korea are praising Jesus in underground churches, and South Korea is doing nothing about it, so it is up to Trump to free them."
Notably, Trump has also been fiercely critical of KORUS, the free-trade agreement between the US and South Korea, suggesting earlier this year he might terminate it, and Trump said Tuesday the two had discussed making changes to the agreement - though he tempered his rhetoric on the issue during the joint appearance. Nearly 30,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea.
Trump has said he will not visit the DMZ - the armed border between the two Koreas that has already been visited by two members of his administration - Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence. Later this week, Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during an APEC conference in Vietnam. It would be their first meeting since June, when they sat down on the sidelines of a G-20 summit. The US Navy is conducting joint military exercises with its South Korean partners as a show of strength meant to underscore the US's commitment to providing security in the region.
So far, Trump's softened rhetoric toward North Korea and trade have earned plaudits from the South Korean foreign policy set...
Moon-Trump presser: Trump has behaved. Stayed on script. Emphasized trade several times but nowhere near as bad DC summit comment ...1/— Duyeon Kim (@duyeonkim) November 7, 2017