SEOUL, South Korea — Unpredictable. Unhinged. Dangerous.
Many South Koreans are using those words to describe the president of their most important ally, rather than the leader of their archrival to the North. They worry that President Donald Trump’s tough, unorthodox talk about North Korea’s nuclear program is boosting already-high animosity between the rival Koreas.
No matter whether Trump succeeds at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and missile programs, his actions, comments and tweets are changing how the region views the long-running conflict. Senior North Korean officials see their relations with Washington as even more volatile than before. China is appealing for calm, and possibly re-examining its role. Japan is weighing a retaliatory strike capability against the North.
After decades of failure to stop North Korea’s march toward a nuclear arsenal, some see Trump’s bluster as a shrewd attempt to press China, the North’s most important ally and trading partner, into pressuring North Korea more aggressively over its nuclear program.
Trump has said he’s willing to make trade and economic concessions to China in return for its help with North Korea. “A trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!” Trump said on Twitter, recounting what he told Xi while hosting him this month at his Palm Beach, Florida, resort.
Pulling back from a campaign promise, Trump has also said he would not declare China a currency manipulator, as he looked for help from Beijing.
The rhetoric seems to be blurring the lines between North Korea and economic ties with China, issues that previous U.S. administrations had kept separate.