2017 Asia Tour - Trump's Short Yet Somewhat Meaningful Visit to South Korea

December 09, 2017 by Hyeong Jin Lee


On November 4th, President Trump left the United States to go on a tour of a few Asia-Pacific countries such as Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. His goal appeared to consist of strengthening US-led efforts to deal with North Korea and its nuclear threats, spreading his administration’s idea of a “free and open Indo-Pacific region”, establishing more favorable bilateral trade relations to reduce US trade deficits, and lastly, to temporarily evade his domestic issues such as low approval ratings and the ongoing Russia probe. President Trump’s Asia tour took place as follows: on November 5th, President Trump arrived in Japan and departed from Japan for Korea on November 7th. After a short 24 hour stay in South Korea, President Trump then proceeded to China on November 8th where he stayed until he departed for Vietnam on the 10th.

Unlike how President Trump’s visit to the other Asian countries during his Asia tour were considered to be “official visits”, President Trump’s visit to South Korea was a state visit, the first since George H.W. Bush’s state visit in 1992. Nevertheless, not only was South Korea President Trump’s shortest trip during the Asia tour, but President Trump was also unable to visit the Demilitarized Zone which is an essential part of any official visit to South Korea by a US representative.  The US President was unable to visit the DMZ due to poor weather conditions which may have been a relief for President Moon who had advised President Trump not to go near the DMZ while tensions were still high.

Upon initial arrival in South Korea, President Trump was greeted by South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kang Kyung Hwa and Ambassador to the US, Cho Yoon Jae. President Trump made a visit to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi province where he was briefed by both American and South Korean military officials on the current situation in regards to North Korea. South Korean officials made use of this visit to Camp Humphreys to inform the US President that South Korea had paid over 90% of the $10 billion cost (and also provided the land and equipment needed) for the construction of the largest US overseas military base. This was in response to the US President’s previous statement that South Korea was not providing enough financial assistance towards the US-South Korean military alliance. Furthermore, the South Korean government’s sanctions against bank officials charged with aiding Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile program, symbolic as it may be, may also have helped prove to the US President the commitment of the South Korean government towards combating North Korea.

After the visit to Camp Humphreys, President Trump visited Cheong Wa Dae (the Blue House) to hold his third bilateral summit meeting with President Moon to discuss trade relations and strengthening of the US-South Korean military alliance. Once the summit ended, President Moon stated in a press conference that there would be an “unprecedented” cooperative effort between the United States and South Korea to boost South Korean military capabilities. This boosted effort was exemplified by the lifting of the restrictions on South Korean ballistic missile payload and surveillance technologies.

On the second day of President Trump’s stay in South Korea, the US President met US Embassy officials and their families at the US Embassy in Seoul. Afterwards, President Trump met Chung Se-Kyun, the representative of the National Assembly before giving his address to parliament. President Trump was the first US President to address parliament since President Bill Clinton in 1993. The final stop of President Trump’s trip in South Korea was the national cemetery in Seoul where he laid wreaths to pay respects.

Upon returning to the United States, President Trump claimed that his Asia Tour had been “tremendously successful” and although this may be an exaggeration of the truth, the Asia tour did have some positive aspects. President Trump was given warm receptions in Japan, China, and Korea (aside from some anti-Trump public protests in Seoul) and despite of the success of building bilateral trade relations being questionable, all three countries have clearly expressed their interests in military cooperation with the United States to keep North Korea in check. And perhaps it was in response to North Korea’s warning to the US ahead of President Trump’s visit to South Korea, but President Trump’s address to the Korean parliament had a softer tone and stated that he was “open to talks with North Korea” if they promise to give up their nukes. This was a stark contrast to the “fire and fury” rhetoric towards North Korea from earlier this year which was a welcome change.

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