What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

As Trump projects united front, how do South Koreans see tensions with Kim Jong Un?

Just miles from one of the world's most dangerous borders, President Trump's tone toward North Korea shifted from long-distance threats to "let's make a deal," suggesting at a press conference with the South Korean president that he sees signs that diplomacy could work. John Yang speaks with David Kang of the University of Southern California about the South Korean perception of Trump's approach.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first: President Trump is in South Korea on the second leg of his five-nation, 12-day trip to Asia, amid the nuclear showdown with Seoul’s volatile neighbor to the north.

    John Yang has the story.

  • John Yang:

    In South Korea today, just miles from one of the world’s most dangerous borders, President Trump’s tone toward North Korea shifted from long-distance threats of fire and fury to let’s make a deal.

    At a news conference with President Moon Jae-in, Mr. Trump said he saw signs that diplomacy is working.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I really believe that it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and to make a deal that’s good for the people of North Korea and the people of the world. I do see a certain movement, yes. But let’s see what happens.

  • John Yang:

    Mr. Moon called on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to respond in kind.

  • President Moon Jae-in:

     (Through interpreter) We strongly urge North Korea again to immediately stop its nuclear and missile provocations and join dialogue for denuclearization as soon as possible.

  • John Yang:

    South of Seoul, at Camp Humphreys, the biggest U.S. Army garrison in Asia, Mr. Trump talked about curbing the North’s nuclear ambitions.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I think we’re going to have lots of good answers for you over a period of time, and, ultimately, it will all work out, because it always works out. Has to work out.

  • John Yang:

    Competing rallies in the capital reflected a split in South Korea, some supporting Mr. Trump’s threats to use U.S. military force, others warning that he’s provoking a war with the North.

    President Moon spoke to those fears during the official welcome at the presidential residence, the Blue House.

  • President Moon Jae-in:

     (Through interpreter) I hope that your visit to Korea and to the Asia Pacific region will offer us the opportunity to release some of the anxiety that the Korean people have due to North Korea’s provocations and also reach a turning point in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue.

  • John Yang:

    In turn, Mr. Trump made clear that defending the South goes hand in hand with another of his priorities, adding to America’s bottom line.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The amount of equipment and things that you will be ordering from the United States will be very substantially increased, and, therefore, we will be bringing the trade deficit way down.

  • John Yang:

    Tonight, as thousands of South Koreans staged a candlelight protest against the visit, Mr. Trump pledged to unity with South Korea.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You have never had a time where this ally has been more loyal or stood by your side more than right now.

  • John Yang:

    For now, a united front, together facing the nuclear threat from the North.

    So, how do South Koreans view President Trump’s approach to dealing with Kim Jong-un’s regime?

    David Kang is professor of international relations and business at the University of Southern California. His latest book is “American Grand Strategy and East Asian Security in the Twenty-First Century.”

    David Kang, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

    Are President Moon and President Trump on the same page about the approach to North Korea?

  • David Kang:

    I think they’re more on the same page now than they were before. And this is exactly why presidents travel.

    Moon was able to talk to him about what they worry about, which is starting a war, and Trump was able to reassure him in many ways. So I think they’re much closer now than they were before.

  • John Yang:

    You say Mr. Trump was able to reassure him. Was that part of the goal of this trip, do you think?

  • David Kang:

    I think much of this trip might be called, say, damage control, meaning there’s a lot of questions about what the U.S. is going to do and whether we have a policy for Asia.

    And from Japan to Korea, across through China and Southeast Asia, I think this is what Trump is doing is coming out and reassuring allies and partners about what the United States wants to do.

  • John Yang:

    We heard President Moon talk about the anxieties in South Korea.

    South Koreans, of course, have lived within the range of the North Korean nuclear threat for a long time now. How does that shape their view of what’s going on, and how is the South Korean view of what’s going on different from the American, the U.S. view?

  • David Kang:

    I think the main difference is that South Koreans feel that deterrents can work on North Korea. It’s one reason that they want a strong U.S. alliance, and it’s one reason that the South Koreans are not trying to have tactical nuclear weapons as much, because they feel that, if there is a strong U.S. alliance, the North can be deterred.

    So, in that way, I think they view the situation as more open to stability than perhaps we might be here in the United States.

  • John Yang:

    And the talk about deterrence, do the South Koreans see President Trump’s talk about fire and fury, referring to Kim as Rocket Man, did they view that as deterrence?

  • David Kang:

    You know, I think this president is perhaps more flamboyant than other presidents, but he send essentially a deterrent message, and it’s actually been the same as Obama and Bush before him, have all said they won’t live with nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table if the North attacks first.

    So I think the South Koreans, like anyone else, wanted just to clarify that. But I think Trump essentially was sending a deterrent message.

  • John Yang:

    The protests that we have seen on the streets of Seoul and outside Camp Humphreys, are the South Koreans worried? Is there greater anxiety now among South Koreans, do you think?

  • David Kang:

    I think there’s greater anxiety than there was, but I also think there is less anxiety about a war in South Korea than there is perhaps in the United States, because, again, as you mentioned, South Koreans have lived with the threat of war from North Korea for 64 years.

    So, this is something they’re very used to, and it doesn’t seem particularly as out of character as perhaps we might think in the United State, where we don’t pay it attention that constantly.

  • John Yang:

    There are some in the Trump administration who believe that a preemptive limited strike is manageable, that it wouldn’t trigger an all-out response from the North Koreans.

    Do the South Koreans share that view?

  • David Kang:

    No.

    I think there is a tremendous amount of belief that North Korea will do whatever it says it will do, which is, it will fight back. And that’s one reason that deterrence has worked on both sides. They have spent — North Korea spends a lot of time convincing the South Koreans and the Americans that they will fight back if they’re attacked, and so essentially that’s a — we tend to believe that.

  • John Yang:

    Is there greater anxiety among South Koreans about what North Korea will do or about what the United States will do?

  • David Kang:

    I mean, I think that’s one reason that President Trump is making this visit.

    The defense secretary has been out, secretary of state has been out to the region many times. But what they need to see is a U.S. president who will come out who can actually talk to the leaders and reassure and explain what the United States is going to do.

    So I think, in some ways, there is more focus on what the Americans are going to do, because that’s the new player in town.

  • John Yang:

    David Kang of the University of Southern California, thanks so much for joining us.

  • David Kang:

    My pleasure.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News