South Korea baffled by Trump comments on missile defence, trade
Trump's remarks were in line with seemingly off-the-cuff comments this week about NAFTA, Canada
Contradicting U.S. President Donald Trump, South Korea said Friday it has no plan to renegotiate a bilateral trade deal with the U.S., or to pay for the U.S. missile defence system being deployed on its territory.
South Korea's trade and defence ministries were reacting to President Donald Trump's remarks that he will fix or end what he called a "horrible" bilateral trade deal with South Korea, and that he would make the Asian ally pay $1 billion for the THAAD missile defence system.
Trump made the remarks in an interview Thursday with Reuters news agency.
Woo Taehee, South Korea's vice trade minister, said the country was not notified of any trade renegotiation, and that there have been no working-level talks with the U.S. regarding the five-year-old trade deal.
Woo said the trade ministry was trying to confirm the details of the media reports on Trump's remarks. He said there have been "no pre-talks" with the U.S. regarding the issue.
The U.S.-South Korea free trade deal is not the only free trade pact that the Trump administration is reconsidering. Earlier this week the White House leaked the possibility of the U.S. abandoning the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump called that off hours later, saying he would seek to revamp the trade deal with Canada and Mexico and pull out of NAFTA only if he couldn't secure a favourable deal.
In a separate statement, South Korea's defence ministry said there is no change in its plan under which the U.S. covers the cost for operating THAAD, now being deployed in the country's southeast. Under an agreement reached during the administration of Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, South Korea offers the land and facilities for THAAD but not the cost of operations, the defence Ministry said.
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The U.S. missile defence system, meant to deter North Korean aggression, has become a thorny issue between South Korea and China, which opposes it because its powerful radars can peer through not only North Korean but Chinese defences. Chinese backlash over THAAD has been hurting South Korean businesses in China, South Korea's largest trading partner, and many in South Korea worry that the issue could damage South Korea's economic recovery.
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Some observers said the remarks could infuriate South Korean voters and spark anti-U.S. sentiment less than two weeks before the country's presidential elections.
In response to Trump's remarks, a spokesman for the leading presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in of the main opposition liberal party, repeated his earlier position that the current government should stop deploying THAAD and defer the decision to the next president. In a statement, Moon's camp questioned whether it was in line with the spirit of the security alliance for the U.S. to unilaterally ask South Korea to pay for the THAAD and to scrap the free trade deal.
Ahn Cheol-soo, a presidential candidate who supports THAAD, said the U.S. should stick to its agreement and cover the costs of the anti-missile system.