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(Yonhap Interview) No need to panic but build contact with Trump camp: expert

2016/11/10 11:10

By Lee Kwi-won and Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Nov. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea shouldn't panic about the unexpected win by Republic candidate Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election but work hard to build communication channels and actively share its views on key diplomatic issues including how to cope with North Korea's nuclear threat, a former senior foreign ministry official here said Thursday.

Trump was elected the next president of the U.S. in an upset victory over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. His win has spawned anxiety especially among many policymakers here who have been concerned about his controversial remarks on North Korea, burden-sharing for U.S. troop presence and possible renegotiations of a free trade deal between the two allies.

In contrast with Seoul's many communication channels available with Clinton, policymakers and experts are worrying about lack of well-known and reliable contact points with the Trump camp. South Korea's diplomatic policy has been thrown into heightened uncertainty with some raising concerns that what they called "ironclad" alliance with Washington could be in jeopardy.

"We don't have to panic," Kim Sung-han, a professor at Korea University, who served as a vice foreign minister under the Lee Myung-bak government. "It's not desirable at all to let others see us panic."

   "The more we show such emotions, the less leverage we could have in our future negotiations related to security, free trade and others. We need to react with dignity, showing that we strongly believe that the alliance will continue."

   He didn't believe that Trump has a full understanding of political and diplomatic landscape of the Korean Peninsula and around this region, not giving much credence to what he had said on campaign trails about alliance, North Korea and other issues of mutual concern.

The lack of understanding is where there is an opportunity that South Korea needs to take full advantage of, he added.

"It is true that the level of his understanding about the Korean Peninsula is quite lower than Clinton. After all, he brought up the burden-sharing issue for U.S. troops stationed here based on inaccurate facts, and sometimes he had not been consistent about the North," he said.

"This shows that (his thinking) can be significantly affected depending on how he will be briefed (on issues related to Korea) in the transition period," he said. "Right now, the Korean Peninsula issue does not occupy much of his mind."

   He proposed the government form a special delegation consisting of heavyweight officials and experts and dispatch them to the U.S. before Trump's inauguration scheduled for early next year so that they can help him better understand its stance and desirable future policy direction, especially about North Korea.

South Korea's foreign ministry had expected there would be no big change under a Clinton administration in its pressure and sanctions-oriented approach to the North's nuclear and missile development.

Trump, meanwhile, has been inconsistent in his stance on the North by making overtures for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, while calling him a maniac. His election comes as South Korea is working closely with the U.S. and other countries to toughen punishment for the North's fifth and strongest-ever nuclear test in September.

"If he is briefed on North Korea affairs, there will be few reasons for the president-elect to oppose pressure and sanctions. At the same time, I expects he will explore ways to make the North kneel down through conversation," he said.

Asked whether Trump's demand for a fair burden-sharing for U.S. troops here could develop into a serious diplomatic row between the two allies, Kim said that there is still time and that the government will be able to clear misunderstandings through talks in the years to come.

Trump has claimed that South Korea has not paid its fair share of the burden in keeping nearly 30,000 U.S. troops deployed here to counter the threat from the North. Seoul currently pays roughly half the costs estimated at about US$900 million a year.

"The share-burdening issue will be negotiated from 2018 to renewing a treaty that will go into effect from 2019. Fortunately, we have time," he said. "It seems that (Trump) has little idea about that. I believe that we can resolve much of our concerns through active explanation."

   kokobj@yna.co.kr

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