Donald Trump’s suggestion that South Korea and Japan should have their own nuclear arsenals so they can protect themselves — and so the United States doesn’t have to — has been met with bewilderment in the region.
Government officials on all three sides stressed that there would be no change in the alliance, while newspapers shook their editorial heads.
“We are dumbfounded at such myopic views of a leading candidate in the U.S. presidential race, who tries to approach such critical issues only from the perspective of expenses,” the JoongAng Ilbo, one of South Korea’s biggest newspapers, said in a punchy editorial. “Trump must refrain from his penny-wise and pound-foolish approach.”
The left-leaning Hankyoreh urged President Park Geun-hye’s administration to protest. “The South Korean government needs to express its firm opposition to Trump’s foreign policy plan, which constitutes a threat to security on the Korean Peninsula,” the paper said, warning that Trump’s comments could complicate efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
The Republican presidential front-runner argues that the United States’ defense alliances with Japan and South Korea cost too much money.
The U.S. military has about 54,000 troops stationed in Japan and 28,500 in South Korea, and the alliances form the cornerstones of its military presence in Asia. The presence is meant to keep North Korea, as well as China, in check.
But Trump has been complaining that these two rich countries should be paying for their own defense.
“Now, does that mean nuclear? It could mean nuclear. It’s a very scary nuclear world,” Trump told the New York Times.
With the irascible North Korean regime threatening more nuclear and missile tests, some politicians and opinion leaders in Seoul have been talking about the need for South Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons, but this idea does not have mainstream support.
The spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry, Moon Sang-gyun, said Monday that he had no comment on Trump’s remarks on nuclear weapons. He did, however, tell reporters that the alliance with the United States remains strong.
In Tokyo, Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, said there would be no change in Japan’s policy of not having nuclear weapons.
“Whoever becomes president of the United States, the Japan-U.S. alliance, based on a bilateral security agreement, will remain the core of Japan’s diplomacy,” Suga told reporters. “We will adhere to our three principles that prohibit Japan from owning, developing and transporting a nuclear arsenal.”