President Moon Jae-in quickly congratulated President-elect Joe Biden last week following his projected victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 General Election. In his November
The U.S. Election and its Implications for South Korea
When Americans go to the polls this week to decide whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden will lead the nation as president for the next four years, the results could have a significant impact on South Korea and its relationship to the United States. And most of that focus could be on North Korea, which stands at the heart of the U.S.-South Korean relationship.
As a vibrant, modern, thriving democracy, South Korea stands in stark contrast to the closed, authoritarian dictatorship of its adversary to the north. North Korea would clearly prefer President Trump for reelection, even in the face of pressure from the Trump Administration to abandon its nuclear weapons programs.
Biden, on the other hand, will be far more focused on human rights abuses and a more traditional approach to Korean ruler Kim Jong-un regarding nuclear de-escalation. According to a Gallop poll last summer, more South Koreans disapprove of President Trump’s performance in office, 47 percent to 41 percent. However, when Trump set foot on North Korean soil in 2019, South Korean’s were generally excited about the prospect of finally ending their long and dangerous antagonism with the North.
Yet, while other public opinion surveys found widespread support for talks between the U.S. and North Korea, there was little confidence that President Trump would “do the right thing” in global affairs.
Outside of the nuclear negotiations, South Korean experts expect that a second Trump Administration would “double down” on its demands for a larger commitment of Korean funding for U.S. defense activities in Korea. They also believe the White House under Trump would attempt to bring South Korea more directly into the competitive rivalries between the U.S. and China. Some speculate that the Moon Administration would seek more distance between itself and the Trump Administration if he earns a second term.
If Joe Biden wins the election, restoring credibility with America’s global allies will be a top priority on the global front. However, how President Biden would view the prospects of eliminating nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula or accepting some level of weapons in the North for deterrence will be crucial.
In either case, the U.S. and South Korea’s relationship will continue to evolve.