Trump Rattles South Korea by Saying It Should Pay for Antimissile System

April 28, 2017

By CHOE SANG-HUN New York Times


SEOUL, South Korea — President Trump’s comment that he wants South Korea to pay for a missile defense system being set up in the country jolted its presidential race on Friday and surprised the government, leaving it scrambling to figure out the intentions of a close ally.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Mr. Trump said that he wanted South Korea to pay for the system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, whose cost he estimated at $1 billion.

He also said that he wanted to renegotiate or terminate what he called a “horrible” trade agreement with South Korea because of a deep trade deficit. “Very soon,” he said when asked when he would announce his intention to renegotiate the pact. “I’m announcing it now.”

In South Korea, Mr. Trump’s comments shook the race to choose a successor to Park Geun-hye, the former president who was formally ousted last month after being impeached by Parliament in December. The election is on May 9.

Ms. Park’s decision to accept the Thaad deployment has been a dominant campaign issue, with Moon Jae-in, the leading candidate, calling for an immediate halt to the system’s deployment and vowing to review it if elected.

“We must consider whether it conforms to the spirit of the alliance,” Youn Kwan-suk, Mr. Moon’s spokesman, said in a statement about Mr. Trump’s demand, accusing him of acting “unilaterally and without close bilateral consultations.”

Mr. Moon had already said it was wrong for Ms. Park’s government to have accepted the Thaad deployment without first seeking parliamentary approval.

On Friday, after Mr. Trump’s comment reached South Korea, Mr. Moon’s campaign headquarters reiterated that whoever wins the May election should review, along with the National Assembly, Ms. Park’s decision to accept the missile defense system and determine whether deploying it was in South Korea’s national interest.

The gap between Mr. Trump’s comments and what South Koreans have been told by their government about the cost of the deployment “makes it clear that there was a serious flaw in the decision to deploy Thaad,” Mr. Youn said on Friday.

Contrary to Mr. Trump’s remarks, South Korea has repeatedly said that it would provide the land and build the base needed for the Thaad missile battery and that the United States would pay for the deployment, operation and maintenance of the system, which was purchased from Lockheed Martin.

On Friday, the South Korean Defense Ministry said it was not changing that stance.

Some wondered whether the government had made a secret agreement under which South Korea would help pay for the system.

The government must clarify whether Mr. Trump’s comments reflect his “unilateral wishful thinking” or whether there is such a deal that has not been shared with the public, Son Kum-ju, a spokesman of the opposition People’s Party, said on Friday.

The party’s top leader, Ahn Cheol-soo, is running second, behind Mr. Moon, in pre-election polls.

This week, the United States and South Korean militaries began installing the radar and other crucial components of Thaad in Seongju, 135 miles southeast of Seoul, the South Korean capital. South Korean and American officials said the system would become operational soon, despite protests from China, which sees the deployment as a threat to its security.

Both the United States and South Korea said Thaad was aimed at defending South Korean and American troops in South Korea from North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

But South Koreans are deeply divided over the missile defense system.

After a series of ballistic missile tests by North Korea in recent months, conservative politicians hailed the deployment as a powerful symbol of the United States’ commitment to the defense of South Korea.

But many liberal opposition lawmakers have questioned the wisdom of the deployment, which has strained ties with China, the South’s biggest trading partner. They said that Thaad had infuriated the Chinese so much that they were boycotting South Korean brands and that Beijing may now be less willing to use economic leverage to rein in the North’s weapons programs.

On Friday, the South Korean Trade Ministry was equally stunned by Mr. Trump’s comment about renegotiating or ending the trade deal with the United States. It said it had not been notified of any American plan to revise the five-year-old pact.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly criticized a range of trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as the South Korean-American trade pact, saying that they took jobs from American workers. One of Mr. Trump’s first acts as president was to formally withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which had been an important pillar of the Obama administration’s trade policy in the region.

Mr. Trump has also accused South Korea and Japan of not paying enough for an American military presence.

More recently, South Koreans have grown anxious over repeated warnings from Mr. Trump’s top aides that military options are not off the table in Washington’s dealing with North Korea. Some Koreans fear that the United States might attack North Korea’s nuclear facilities, setting off a war that could devastate Seoul.

Mr. Trump also raised some eyebrows in South Korea by saying that Korea used to be “part of China.”

he South Korean presidential candidates Ahn Cheol-soo, left, and Moon Jae-in before a televised debate in Seoul on Sunday. Credit Pool photo by Kim Hong-Ji

he South Korean presidential candidates Ahn Cheol-soo, left, and Moon Jae-in before a televised debate in Seoul on Sunday. Credit Pool photo by Kim Hong-Ji



  1. free money paypal

    April 29, 2017 at 3:02 AM

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  2. mlynn

    May 1, 2017 at 11:43 AM

    The era of “Free” stuff and services from the United States is over. If South Korea think protecting their people comes as secondary, then they should make it clear to US. Israel has not one but several THAAD from US and it served their people and country from the endless thread from the Arabs neighbors.

    • TripleThreat

      May 2, 2017 at 12:08 PM

      Wasn’t candidate Moon the guy who was going in-between the Norks and the Korean UN delegation to get Korea to NOT condemn NK atrocities? With friends like these, who needs enemies?

  3. html color picker

    May 19, 2017 at 7:31 PM

    I understand a lot about politics. I think South Korea and the US share the cost of maintaining the THAAD system is reasonable. Korea has both a means of protecting itself and the United States also defends its interests in the region.