US President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday showed joint resolve on North Korea despite their divergent philosophies for addressing the nuclear threat, yet the US opened up a new front of discord by demanding a renegotiation of a landmark 2012 trade pact between the two countries.
Concluding two days of meetings at the White House, Trump and Moon each delivered tough talk opposing North Korea’s development of atomic weapons that could soon threaten both allies.
The “reckless and brutal regime” requires a determined reply, Trump said.
Moon, who has long advocated outreach to Pyongyang, vowed a “stern response” to provocation, promising to coordinate closely with Trump as he looks to intensify economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea.
While they avoided a potential conflict on the most burning national security crisis facing each country, they showed little harmony on trade.
Summoning the economic nationalism that has marked much of his international agenda, Trump highlighted the US’ trade imbalance with South Korea.
Two-way trade in goods and services was US$144 billion last year, with the US running a US$17 billion deficit.
“The fact is that the US has trade deficits with many, many countries, and we cannot allow that to continue,” Trump said. “And we’ll start with South Korea right now.”
Ahead of their first face-to-face discussions, South Korean companies have announced plans to invest US$12.8 billion in the US over the next five years.
Nevertheless, Trump was not placated.
The two sides would renegotiate a 2012 free-trade agreement, calling it a “rough deal” for the US, echoing the sentiments he has voiced about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, he said.
The White House later confirmed Trump has asked his trade representative to begin the process of renegotiation.
In an apparent reference to Chinese steel, Trump accused Seoul of helping steel reach the US at unfairly low prices.
Trump also demanded that market barriers to US automakers be lifted to give them “a fair shake at dealing with South Korea.”
To rub it in, Trump called on his top economic officials to address their grievances to Moon in front of journalists.
The trade imbalance has grown sharply since the trade deal took effect due to unfair “rulemaking” governing US industrial products entering South Korea, particularly autos, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said.
Despite the trade tensions, Trump and Moon sought to establish a personal bond.
Moon praised Trump as a man of “determination and pragmatism,” and said the US president had accepted an invitation to visit South Korea with US first lady Melania Trump later this year.
Trump declared their relationship “very, very good.”
Trump urged all nations to join the US in imposing sanctions to starve North Korea of resources for its nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea should “choose a better path and do it quickly, and a different future for its long-suffering people,” he said.
“Our goal is peace, stability and prosperity for the region, but the United States will defend itself, always will defend itself, always,” Trump said. “And we will always defend our allies.”
The leaders agreed to strengthen their deterrence and coordinate on North Korea policy, employing both sanctions and dialogue “in a phased and comprehensive approach,” Moon said.
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