SEOUL — South Koreans are growing more anxious about President Donald Trump’s commitment to the North Korean nuclear deal, fearing he could simply walk away, having already declared victory back home.
The president has earned the respect of many people here for his unconventional diplomacy in meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even among those who otherwise deride Trump as a “merchant” who lacks the “class” of his predecessor. But behind the surprising goodwill and relentlessly upbeat pronouncements from Seoul officials, there are creeping doubts, according to interviews this summer with current and former government advisers, a leading politician, foreign policy specialists, journalists and North Korean defectors.
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Among the concerns are frustration that Trump has failed to secure a formal end to the Korean War while negotiating on nuclear disarmament; worries that the president is simply seeking a “trophy” for meeting with Kim and won’t be as engaged in the hard work to come; doubts about the “hubris” of the White House’s all-or-nothing approach to negotiating with Pyongyang, as opposed to the incremental process favored by many South Koreans; and dismay over why Trump would launch a trade war with China at a time when he needs Beijing’s help in keeping pressure on North Korea.
Most of those concerns relate, in some ways, to Trump’s personal characteristics — his unawareness of history, his short attention span — even as many South Koreans acknowledge that it was Trump’s very brashness that brought about the breakthrough in the first place.
“I’m concerned he may lose patience, and then just get out of this” said Dr. Jun Bong-Geun, a former policy adviser to South Korea’s minister of unification. “That could be possible, very possible.”
“They are repeating the same mistake” and failing to learn from past administrations, said Joo Seong-ha, a North Korean defector and journalist who writes the popular blog “Pyongyang Story Written in Seoul,” speaking through a translator.
The growing number of obstacles and miscommunications — Trump’s recent out-of-left-field tweet canceling his secretary of state’s diplomatic trip to North Korea is a representative example — have made South Koreans more worried that Trump lacks the stamina for the tough work ahead.
Coverage in liberal-leaning South Korean media outlets — most Korean newspapers and TV stations claim an ideological affiliation — has been mostly bullish regarding Trump, but is starting to reflect “notes of uncertainty,” said Seoul-based North Korea scholar Dr. Andrei Lankov, who suggested that the South Korean government “will insist” everything is going well, “no matter what.”
South Koreans seem intensely aware that much of their future hinges on the personality of the mercurial U.S. president. Bookstores large and small are stocked with a translated version of “The Art of the Deal.” Stalls in crowded street markets sell socks with Trump’s face. In restaurants, people use the Trumpism “fake news” — with a heavy dose of irony — and a Korean equivalent that roughly translates to “rubbish reporters.”
At the terminus of an aerial cable car that soars over the Songdo beach in Busan, a major port city, people smile and hold up the peace sign next to a life-size cutout cartoon of Trump shaking hands with Kim Jong Un. On newsstands, Trump graces the covers of South Korean newspapers even when he makes news with other world leaders, like Russian President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, outside Seoul’s City Hall, a small cadre of settled-in protesters representing the People’s Democratic Party have photoshopped Trump’s head onto the body of Adolf Hitler.
The protests speak to the early perception of Trump as a warmonger that has never fully gone away.
That image could surge back to the forefront of South Koreans’ minds during an upcoming critical stretch of negotiations. Ahead of a September summit in Pyongyang, the two Koreas are discussing broad economic cooperation agreements and reducing the military presence at their border — concessions that may irk the U.S. while Trump’s own talks with Pyongyang have stalled.
“From the perspective of South Koreans, regardless of [Trump’s] characteristics, if he has an ability to resolve the nuke issue … we can support him,” said Jung-sik Ahn, a North Korea specialist at SBS, one of Korea’s major commercial broadcast networks, through a translator. “But at this moment … there is an increasing suspicion he does have such an ability.”
From Obama to Trump
Trump took over the White House from a man who enjoyed soaring popularity in South Korea — Barack Obama’s favorability rating topped 70 percent here during his second term, according to Gallup Korea.
Obama’s academic demeanor, hopeful rhetoric and frequent nods to the past played well in this culturally optimistic country where people are quick to deliver winding history lectures to explain current issues. Conversely, Gallup polls showed Trump entering office with a 9 percent favorability rating in South Korea.
But Trump has won over South Korea on at least one issue: North Korea.
Behind Obama’s popularity was a measure of distrust of his commitment to South Korean national security; his “strategic patience” regarding Pyongyang was perceived here as “strategic indifference,” according to several foreign policy experts.
“All of a sudden, I’ve become a defender of Donald Trump,” chuckled Moon Chung-in, a longtime government adviser to progressive South Korean leaders who regularly speaks with current President Moon Jae-in. Moon — like nearly all of the people interviewed for this piece — spoke through interviews arranged by the East-West Center, a partly State Department-backed organization that fosters closer U.S.-Asian relations, and the Korea Press Foundation, a Seoul-based nonprofit that also receives government funding.
Many assumed that Hillary Clinton would have followed the same path as Obama.
“It is better to have President Trump rather than Hillary,” said Oh Chan-ho, a prominent sociologist and cultural critic who otherwise had few kind words about the current American president, speaking via a translator.
Where Obama had been calculated and patient, Trump was instantly bold, assertive and even bellicose, bragging about the large U.S. nuclear arsenal in an eye-opening Twitter exchange with Kim, whom he dubbed “Little Rocket Man.”
“Trump was one who took initiative,” said Dr. Kim Hyun-wook, a professor with the Korea National Diplomatic Academy focused on long-running U.S.-Korea saga. “He believes in his ability.”
And while Trump’s fiery rhetoric initially raised eyebrows in South Korea — “I was concerned there might be an apocalypse,” quipped Nohyun Kim, a recent college graduate, via a translator — it’s now believed that it helped draw Pyongyang into the current talks about dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program and opening up the country economically.
Trump is a man “who loves events, who loves attention,” said Oh, the sociologist. “It led to a lucky situation for Korea.”
The Trump-Kim odd connection
Trump’s image in South Korea is largely linked to that of Kim, who has enjoyed what several experts in Seoul described as a “beautification” period, aided by a gentler press coverage and an effort by the South Korean government to avoid vilification of the North Korean leader. Lankov, a Russian who regularly visits North Korea and recently published a book in 2014 detailing the country’s current society, said the good feeling is aided by a government-fueled “South Korean propaganda machine.”
Though North and South Korea are officially enemies, at war since 1950 — the Korean War ended in a cease-fire agreement instead of a peace deal — the two countries retain a familial relationship that can perplex outsiders. In South Korea, there’s a conviction that the division is a historical anomaly on a peninsula united by millennia of shared culture. At the demilitarized zone that splits the North and South, a baseball cap for sale with an outline of the Korean Peninsula names the two countries as “Korea” and “North Korea.” Similarly, North Korea originally named Seoul as its capital, aspiring to one day unite the entire peninsula.
Awareness of these ancient ties moved many Koreans to tears earlier this year when Kim Jong Un stepped across the world’s most militarized border, hands clasped with Moon Jae-in. South Koreans also seemed particularly struck by Kim’s decision to bring his wife and sister to the historic diplomatic gathering, showing a more human face than his father and grandfather, who had ruled North Korea since its creation in 1948.
“Kim Jong Un showed he is a family man,” said Moon, the informal South Korean presidential adviser who attended the summit. Moon recalled Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, amicably mingling during a banquet, making the rounds between various tables.
When she got to his table, Moon said, she brought up his previous academic writings on North and South Korean relations, mentioning that she looked forward to reading more of his work. She even took a selfie with him at the dinner.
“When you judge a man, you usually look at his wife and his brothers and sisters,” he said.
Press coverage in South Korea of such human moments at the summit improved Kim’s image. A Korea Research Center poll showed that days after the summit, 78 percent of South Koreans said they trusted Kim, a stark contrast to the meager 10 percent who approved of him in a Gallup Korea poll done roughly a month before the summit.
“We cannot distort TV images since he is a dictator,” said Ahn, the reporter who covers North Korea for SBS, the commercial broadcasting company. “We just show as it is. … What is more important is to make an effort to see him from an objective and comprehensive perspective, particularly when it comes to the real situation under the North Korean regime.”
Trump’s image has benefited from the improved feeling toward Kim. The president’s smile-filled sit-down with the North Korean leader in Singapore received wall-to-wall coverage in South Korea. And more than a month after the get-together, images of Trump chummily placing his hand on Kim’s back are still printed on books and magazines at newsstands in Seoul.
“I think South Korean media is depicting the summit in very rosy [terms],” said Hyun In-ae, a North Korean defector who left her home country in 2004 and now leads a government organization that helps resettle North Korean defectors, through a translator.
“People see what they want to see,” she added, when asked if she believed the South Korean media was being deceived by Kim’s charm offensive.
American coverage of North Korea often includes reminders of Kim’s alleged malevolent deeds — assassinating his half-brother, for instance, or executing senior officials on specious charges, such as falling asleep at meetings — along with the stilted images that make their way out of the closed society such as Kim inspecting a lube factory, or the bizarre spectacle of bodyguards jogging next to his limousine.
But to South Koreans, the strangeness and brutality of the North Korean government is a well-worn tale, told over decades, as numerous middle-aged people invariably noted. What’s new to a South Korean is having a North Korean leader willing to bring his wife and sister to a summit — or to espouse an eagerness to hold hands with his South Korean counterpart and step over the border between the two countries.
Americans see a cartoonishly cruel, infantile despot consolidating his power. South Koreans see that, too, but they also see strands of hope that weren’t there before: a sliver of openness to market reform of the North Korean economy; an occasional divergence from the country’s reflexively hostile rhetoric; and perhaps a genuine desire to engage with the outside world. Even seemingly trivial details like Kim’s willingness to fly — his father preferred an armored train — stand out.
Younger generations find these details “refreshing,” with some even thinking of Kim as “hip or fancy,” said Lee In-suk — who leads new content initiatives at the “moderate progressive” Kyunghyang Shinmun, one of Korea’s largest and oldest daily papers — through a translator.
The sense of optimism about the future of North-South relations, despite decades of thwarted hopes, is something of a Korean national personality trait.
“Throughout Korean history, there is widespread ‘positivism’ no matter what. There is a spirit that we need to develop ourselves to overcome something,” said Oh, the sociologist. “Having hope was considered to be a moral value.”
Even Sim Sang-jung, the leader of Korea’s progressive Justice Party, which stands in direct opposition to Trump on social and labor issues (Sim’s staff sent an email that bluntly began: “We hate Trump”), is hopeful that Trump sees a political benefit to striking a nuclear deal with North Korea.
“There is nothing sure when it comes to diplomacy, but … I am positive,” she said, calling Kim’s denuclearization commitment “quite firm.”
The lessons of history
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has done all he can to prop up Donald Trump.
He constantly praises the American leader, giving him “big credit” for getting North Korea to establish diplomatic channels with the U.S. and South Korea; telling American lawmakers that Trump’s presence made the chances “higher than ever” that Pyongyang would end its nuclear program; and memorably suggesting that Trump win a Nobel peace prize for his efforts.
Yet the two are an odd couple.
Moon was evicted from college for protesting South Korea’s strong-man leader Park Chung Hee, who ruled the country for most of the 1960s and ’70s. Later in life, Moon defended activist students like himself as a civil rights attorney. And in 1988, he joined with journalists expelled from major papers by the country’s military regime to help found an independent newspaper that still exists today.
Trump is a successful real-estate developer who lionizes wealth and whose businesses have been involved in over 100 lawsuits and other disputes over taxes. He praises strong-man leaders in countries like the Philippines and Egypt — not to mention North Korea — while he dismisses anti-government protesters in America as paid rabble-rousers and aims vitriol at the independent press during his rallies.
Such peculiar pairings have proved detrimental in the past for U.S.-South Korea relations.
Like the United States, South Korea has yo-yoed between liberal and conservative leaders since the late 1990s. But the two countries have never matched up. Hawkish George W. Bush — who made North Korea part of his “Axis of Evil” — was president during the administrations of two South Korean doves who spearheaded the “Sunshine Policy” of reconciliation and cooperation with North Korea. One of those leaders, Kim Dae-jung, even won a Nobel peace prize for his outreach to Pyongyang.
In early 2001, Kim Dae-jung visited Washington, fresh off his Nobel win and anticipating a follow-up to the first-ever inter-Korean summit, which had just occurred the year before. He left bewildered by the Bush’s hard-line stance and decision to pause the diplomatic initiatives started under Bill Clinton’s administration. Back in Korea, Kim publicly called the meeting embarrassing and privately excoriated Bush, according to Bruce Cumings’ recounting in “Korea’s Place in the Sun.”
Kim never got his follow-up summit. The next official inter-Korean gathering didn’t happen until 2007; South Korean presidents are limited to one, five-year term.
In the eyes of numerous foreign policy experts in Korea, Bush never recovered from his initial actions, even though the American president eventually agreed to participate in the six-party talks — a series of nuclear negotiations from 2003 to 2009 that included the two Koreas and three other regional powers.
If Bush had built on Clinton’s work, the U.S. and North Korea “could have had major breakthrough,” said Moon, the current adviser to South Korea’s president who helped formulate the Sunshine Policy’s as one of Kim Dae-jung’s top North Korean advisers and who has attended all three major inter-Korean summits.
By the time the more liberal Obama swept into office, South Korea had already swung back to a decade of hawkish leadership, and relations with North Korea were deteriorating.
In April 2009, North Korea — beset by rumors of a power struggle between an ailing Kim Jong Il and hard-line military leaders — defied international resolutions and launched a rocket believed to be a test of the missile technology needed to deliver nuclear weapons. The United Nations, with the support of the United States and South Korea, hit Pyongyang with sanctions, causing the North Koreans to angrily withdraw from the six-party talks.
Those talks would not resume for the remainder of Obama’s time in office. South Koreans favoring rapprochement with their northern neighbor viewed Obama as myopically focused on political battles at home, and as too often acquiescent to China as the American president tried to “pivot” to Asia.
Choi Woo-seon, a foreign policy scholar at IFANS, the government-affiliated think tank, said flatly that Obama should have “pushed China harder” on North Korea.
In South Korea, the Sunshine Policy had also fallen out of favor as Kim Jong Un — who took over after his father’s death in 2011 — aggressively built out his nuclear weapons program. In 2013, conservative Park Geun-hye, daughter of the militaristic leader Park Chung Hee, came to power. Her term was eventually consumed by a corruption scandal that landed Park in jail and snaked through the country’s biggest companies and top rungs of government.
But the strange-bedfellows combination of Trump and Moon has worked — so far.
The two leaders talk “frequently” said Moon, the informal presidential adviser. He praised Trump’s top Korea aides — including the CIA’s Andy Kim, the National Security Council’s Allison Hooker and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — as “tough,” describing the two countries as having “close cooperation.”
For their part, Trump administration officials insist they remain committed to the denuclearization process — although Trump belied any positive assessments when he tweeted on Friday that the U.S. was “not making sufficient progress” on the negotiations. Still, Trump vowed that Pompeo would go to North Korea “in the near future,” after trade tensions with China had died down, and has said he personally would “most likely” meet again with Kim Jong Un.
That would be welcome news to average South Koreans, even those who are skeptical of Trump as a person.
“If [Trump] can bring some peace to us, his approach and his attitude will not be a serious problem,” said Jiyoon Kim, a 2017 graduate of Konkuk University, through a translator.
What does peace mean?
Like its unflagging praise of Trump, the government’s relentless optimism about peace and unification can sometimes feel oddly disconnected from its actions on the ground.
The government has a Ministry of Unification, yet rarely talks about actually unifying the two countries.
At the demilitarized zone between the two countries, a building is emblazoned with the phrase “End of Separation, Beginning of Unification.” Yet nearby, construction is underway for a major expansion of the tourist area at the DMZ, suggesting that this monument to separation is not going anywhere. An introductory video shown in English ends with an almost triumphant voice proclaiming that until the “miracle” of unification occurs, “the DMZ will be alive forever!”
Meanwhile, many younger South Koreans who don’t have a direct family link to the North are suspicious of the economic strain that uniting the two countries would bring.
“I don’t want unification,” said Suhyun Yu, a 23-year-old interning at the Korea Press Foundation, citing the sometimes rocky path of the unified East and West Germany, an example that is frequently taught in schools here and was often mentioned when the prospect of a unified Korea comes up.
“I do not hope that takes place in my lifetime,” she added. “Already, we are struggling with jobs.”
Jiyoon Kim, the Konkuk University graduate, estimated that 90 percent of her friends “say we need to reunify with North Korea, but not in my lifetime.”
The hesitation can cut across ideological lines.
“We should be wary of the hastiness of unification,” said Sim, the progressive party leader.
Instead, the term “unification” is often a stand-in for various forms of tension-reducing overtures to North Korea, from normalization of diplomatic ties, to freer travel and family visits between the two countries, to greater economic cooperation.
It serves the purpose of maintaining the hope that one day the two countries will be joined together again as an independent nation — which last occurred before the Japanese occupation began in 1910 — while allowing room to pragmatically maneuver and reduce the North Korean threat. (When Japan retreated from the peninsula after World War II, the victorious allies split the area roughly in two, giving Soviets control of the north, which shares a border with Russia, and the Americans control of the south.)
Similarly, the Moon administration’s exhortations of Trump’s diplomatic skill serve the purpose of stroking Trump’s ego and keeping him interested and involved, which South Korea needs to officially end the Korean War or get Pyongyang to tone down its nuclear bellicosity.
“President Moon’s consistent high evaluation of Mr. Trump is something that he does to effectively implement the mission’s granted to him,” Sim said. “So far it has turned out very effective.”
President Moon’s upbeat pronouncements about Trump have helped boost South Koreans’ expectations for the talks with the North — but after an early-summer burst of enthusiasm, many are feeling less optimistic.
“We had high hopes for the summit, but actually it was a little bit disappointing,” concluded Hyun In-ae, the North Korean defector who left the country in her 40s. “I expected a concrete and firm commitment.”
While Americans have focused their concerns for the future of the talks on North Korea’s mixed signals about disarmament, steps to evade sanctions and reported efforts to continue building out its missile program in secret, South Korean foreign policy experts and government advisers appear more worried about the Trump administration’s own perceived intransigence.
Many South Korean experts think Trump should modify his stance on withholding any rewards until North Korea has achieved “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” and be more sensitive to Pyongyang’s desire for incremental negotiations. They feel the Americans should go along with the North Koreans’ willingness to trade smaller concessions as a way of establishing goodwill for more sweeping negotiations.
Trump’s ongoing approach, South Korean foreign policy scholars said, is “hubristic” and reveals an ignorance of the missteps that have plagued denuclearization talks for the past three decades.
“The U.S. wants to go fast; North Korea wants to go slowly,” said Choi Woo-seon, the foreign policy scholar. “That will be a very complicated bargaining process — it requires diplomatic skills and patience.”
The U.S., said Joo, the defector-turned-journalist, is “only interested in what they are taking, rather than what they are giving.”
Some South Koreans say Americans have, at times, over-reacted to North Korea’s dated and contrived insults — calling Trump a “dotard,” a little-used term for a senile person; lashing out at “brigandish” American sanctions; and admonishing Vice President Mike Pence for “sweeping the sea with a broom.” Joo noted that some of the North Korean comments that stirred anger in America are reflective of the lack of proper English instruction in the North, with classes being taught based on Shakespeare plays and 1930s American novels.
Meanwhile, they say, some American actions have unnecessarily riled up the North Koreans.
According to a recent Vox report, Pompeo has frustrated his North Korean counterparts by repeatedly offering the same deal despite numerous Pyongyang rejections. The proposal would have North Korea hand over 60 to 70 percent of its nuclear warheads within six to eight months in exchange for some type of U.S. concession, perhaps sanctions relief or removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
“It is rare for the U.S. to learn from past mistakes,” said Moon, recounting his years advising South Korean presidents on negotiating with Pyongyang.
The U.S. has also failed to secure a formal end to the Korean War — which many people in both North and South Korea believe would ease tensions for talks on denuclearization.
American presidents stretching back decades have been loath to propose a peace deal unless they can first secure something concrete, like significant denuclearization, which takes months if not years.
Bush, for example, did eventually float a possible peace deal with North Korea in 2007 — four years after restarting talks with the country — but only on the condition that Pyongyang totally give up its nuclear weapons program. South Korean foreign policy experts believe such all-or-nothing deals are unlikely to get any traction.
The Trump administration has taken a similar approach — and there are signs that it is irking the Koreans.
In a July speech in Singapore, President Moon argued that an exclusive focus on denuclearization was a recipe for failure — a remark that the left-wing paper Moon helped launch interpreted as a subtle jab at the U.S. And the son of Kim Dae-jung, the Nobel Prize-winning developer of the “Sunshine Policy,” recently told the South China Morning Post that Pyongyang officials are exasperated that the Americans will not prioritize a peace deal to the formally end war.
With the U.S.-North Korea talks being slow to gain traction, South Korea has taken steps on its own to keep improving relations with the North. In recent days, officials from the two Koreas revealed that Moon would travel to Pyongyang in September for his third summit with Kim. In advance of the summit, Moon has pushed ahead with a raft of economic proposals that would bolster the North — and go beyond what the U.S. has been willing to offer — pledging to link the two Koreas via a rail network this year and open joint economic zones along the border. He also vowed to reduce the South’s military presence along the border, a move that the top American general on the Korean peninsula warned would create security risks.
Media reports and experts are alsopredicting that Moon and Kim could be preparing to announced a shared commitment to seeking a “peace regime” prior to denuclearization at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting, which starts Sept. 18.
Meanwhile, South Koreans are flummoxed by Trump’s trade war with China, with some specialists even arguing that the move has essentially killed Trump’s chances at succeeding with North Korea.
Trump needed Beijing’s cooperation to pressure North Korea into serious negotiations with the United States last spring. But since Trump launched his tit-for-tat exchange of tariffs with Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping has struck out on his own, surprising the world by meeting one-on-one with Kim three times. And according to Korean media reports, China has resumed joint economic projects with North Korea. Beijing has even joined with Russia to block American efforts at the United Nations to blacklist a Moscow-based North Korean banker.
As a result, some analysts believe Trump’s actions have essentially put Xi in the driver’s seat on North Korea.
“The current phase is moving from Trump’s initiative to Xi Jinping’s initiative,” said Bong-Geun Jun, the former minister of unification adviser.
It’s been a welcome development in Pyongyang.
“Kim Jong Un’s major goal now is to break the united front of China and the U.S. which suddenly emerged last year,” wrote Lankov, the North Korea scholar, in a recent column, several days before he traveled to Washington to speak with Trump administration officials about North Korea. “The trade war initiated by the U.S. made his job so much easier.”
Trump has lashed out at China, accusing its leaders of attempting to derail his negotiations with Pyongyang.
The argument fell flat in South Korea.
“I think this is another attempt attempt by President Trump to prepare for any possible falling apart of negotiations,” said Joo, the North Korean defector who has been covering the negotiations on his popular blog. “He is exaggerating the situation.”
Others point to comments by the Trump administration that they say reveals either an ignorance of history, or an intentional effort to inflame tensions.
On separate occasions, both Bolton and Pence mentioned the “Libya model” of denuclearization — a phrase that was guaranteed to touch a nerve in Pyongyang. In 2003, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi voluntarily agreed to give up his nuclear program in exchange for integration into the global economic ecosystem. Eight years later, Gaddafi was unceremoniously ousted, dragged out of a drain where he was hiding and brutally executed during a NATO-led military intervention intended to stop Gaddafi’s threatened massacre of civilians.
Gaddafi’s decision has long gripped North Korean leaders as an example what happens when small countries cave to U.S. demands without securing a robust security guarantee in exchange.
Others felt Pompeo struck a sour note when he implored North Korea to follow the Vietnam “miracle” — given that Vietnam, which was once ravaged by war with America, remains an struggling nation in many ways despite having a fast rate of economic growth.
“Do you think Vietnam is a miracle?” asked Joo. Perplexed, he described Vietnam as “still poor” and “plagued with corruption.” Indeed, despite rapid improvement in both categories, Vietnam retains a per capita GDP that is one fifth of the world average and falls in the bottom half of worldwide corruption rankings. However, some Korean media reports have said Kim Jong Un himself wants to emulate Vietnam, even mentioning it to Moon at their summit.
Despite the concerns about Trump and his administration, there remains a broad sense among South Koreans that relations between North and South are poised for improvement. And there’s a cautious faith that Kim Jong Un is more committed to engagement than his father and grandfather were.
As president, Moon retains a sky-high approval rating in his country, largely because of his work to embrace North Korea, showing that the vast majority of the population has not given up on the prospect that the two countries can develop a tenuous friendship. And as long as Moon’s popularity is linked to his Pyongyang overtures, most believe he will continue to stand by Trump.
Seated next to one another on a stiflingly hot summer afternoon in Seoul, Jun and Choi tried to take the long view, reflecting the years they have spent assiduously studying and working on the grinding process of bringing together two countries that have been drifting apart for decades.
“Last year for me was certain disaster,” said Jun, the former policy advisor to South Korea’s minister of unification. “Now, we are having [an] uncertain future. Everyone is uneasy about it. But I like it much better.”
Still, he later conceded, there’s “a high possibility of returning to the nasty year.”
“I have some hope,” Choi, the foreign policy scholar, chimed in, but “I’m still very much worried.”
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