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Trump's Korea contradictions

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By John Burton

What is fascinating in analyzing the forthcoming Trump presidency is how many of his policy goals contradict each other, which makes it harder to achieve any or most of them. North Korea provides a perfect case in point.

Kim Jong-un's warning in his New Year's address that Pyongyang might soon test an ICBM missile brought forth the Twitter response by Trump that "It won't happen," before the president-elect castigated China for failing to apply tougher sanctions against North Korea.

The only effective way to implement sanctions is to win the cooperation of Beijing in enforcing them.But Trump appears intent in going out of his way to alienate China by threatening, for example, to impose tariffs on its exports to the U.S.

Sino-American ties also look set to deteriorate over such issues as Taiwan and the South China Sea. Trump's policy of confrontation makes it less likely that China will be willing to press North Korea to denuclearize.

Although it has received less attention in the U.S., Trump's policy also threatens to damage relations with Seoul at a time when their ties should be strengthened to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat.

Trump's criticism of U.S. trade policy during the campaign has raised concerns about the future of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, although talk that he may try to withdraw or renegotiate the agreement seem to be premature.

But his team of senior trade officials has a strong protectionist hue to them. Seoul may take some hope in the fact, however, that Wilbur Ross, who has been nominated as U.S. Secretary of Commerce, is familiar with Korea, having conducted several takeover deals in the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis.

There is also growing concern that Korea may also be labeled a currency manipulator since it meets at least two out of three criteria under U.S. Treasury rules, including having a bilateral trade surplus in excess of $20 billion and a current account surplus in excess of 3 percent of gross domestic product. This issue could receive increased focus in coming month after the annual U.S. trade statistics for 2016 are released, which is likely to show an increased bilateral trade surplus in Korea's favor, well above the $20 billion threshold.

In addition, Trump's trade actions could affect the supply network of Korean companies in North America, since Samsung and LG among others have established factories in Mexico, which could be subject to........

© The Korea Times