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3 Factors Affecting the Trump-Kim Relationship: Can It Be Revived if Re-elected?

Three Reasons for Potential Changes in Trump’s Approach

Many predict that if former President Donald Trump succeeds in reclaiming the White House in the next election, he will revive his “bromance” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. This will escalate the conflict over the level of defense cost-sharing with South Korea. During his first term, Trump preferred actions that provided immediate tactical political advantages and valued political flexibility. Scott Snyder is the director of the Korea Economic Institute (KEI), a U.S.-South Korea relations research center. He outlines three reasons categorizing the new realities that might prevent the revival of Trump’s bromance with Kim, even if he is re-elected.

The Influence of the Yoon Suk Yeol Administration

Firstly, Snyder predicted that unlike the preceding Moon Jae In administration, which pursued dialogue and cooperation with Kim, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration would advise Trump to pursue a containment strategy against North Korea’s growing threat. As the South Korean president no longer supports the recovery of North Korea-U.S. relations, the U.S. may face higher costs if it attempts to restore ties with North Korea. The Yoon Suk Yeol administration is likely to oppose Trump’s efforts to resume dialogue with North Korea until North Korea reveals its intentions for denuclearization and may hesitate to mediate such efforts, according to Director Snyder.

Kim Jong Un’s Evolving Position

The second reality is that Kim, receiving more support from Russia and China, may not need to engage in dialogue with Trump. Director Snyder speculated that Kim, who experienced the breakdown of negotiations at the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi in February 2019, might present conditions for resuming dialogue that Trump cannot afford. In this case, North Korea and the U.S. could return to the previous state of tension and risk of military conflict, with each side’s leader mocking the other as a “mad old man” and “rocket man.”

Temptation to Achieve Nuclear Balance

Thirdly, Director Snyder suggests South Korea might be tempted to achieve a nuclear balance with North Korea. If Trump leads the U.S. again, it would be difficult to fully trust the U.S.’s extended deterrence commitment, especially since Trump seemed to tolerate South Korea’s nuclear armament during his candidacy. Director Snyder predicted that Trump’s unpredictable leadership could dramatically change the security dynamics between North and South Korea and shake the U.S.’s defense commitment to South Korea in an unprecedented way.

Uncertain Future of North Korea-U.S. Relations

He further predicted it would be challenging to forecast the outcome due to new geopolitical conditions stemming from the expanded U.S.-China competition rather than repeating the policies towards North and South Korea from his first term. He also suggested that Trump’s diplomatic policy in his second term would be based on his transactional nature, focusing on leveraging current events to generate political advantages, regardless of precedent.

By. Jo Yoo Jin

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