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‘If Trump wins, Yoon may be pushed aside in US talks with North Korea’

South Korea’s conservatives aren’t better at national security, says ROK-US CFC ex-deputy commander

By Kim Arin

Published : March 24, 2024 - 17:57

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Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Kim Byung-joo, who was deputy commander of the ROK-US Combined Forces Command before entering politics in 2020, speaks to The Korea Herald at his campaign office in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald) Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Kim Byung-joo, who was deputy commander of the ROK-US Combined Forces Command before entering politics in 2020, speaks to The Korea Herald at his campaign office in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

NAMYANGJU, Gyeonggi Province -- If former US President Donald Trump returns to the White House, Seoul may be excluded from Washington’s potential negotiations with Pyongyang due to the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s hard-line stance on North Korea, according to former Army general-turned-lawmaker Rep. Kim Byung-joo.

“There is a possibility that our government may not have a seat at the table where decisions concerning the Korean Peninsula are being made between the US and North Korea if Trump wins another presidency. All our ties with North Korea have been cut off, so,” he said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“As Trump has experience in solving inter-Korean issues, he may try to do it (again). That could be a golden opportunity. The problem is, the Yoon administration may not be included,” said Kim, who was recruited into politics in 2020 by the Democratic Party of Korea. “Trump could be speaking with Kim Jong-un directly, without involving Yoon.”

Kim, who was previously deputy commander of the ROK-US Combined Forces Command, said it was “completely untrue” that Seoul’s relations with Washington soured when President Moon Jae-in took office.

“I don’t think Biden himself would agree if you asked. If you asked the former commanders of the USFK (US Forces Korea), Abrams or Brooks, I don’t think they would agree, either,” he said, referring to Gen. Robert B. Abrams and Gen Vincent K. Brooks, each of whom Kim served with as deputy commander.

He said that near the end of Moon’s term, the then-South Korean president and Biden agreed to terminate the South Korea-US missile guidelines that capped Seoul’s missile developments, which had been a long-standing goal on both sides of the aisle.

"This would not have been possible without a strong mutual trus, and it is a piece of solid evidence that the ROK-US alliance was stronger than ever with Moon as president,” he said. ROK refers to the country’s formal name, the Republic of Korea.

Kim says the Democratic Party of Korea is the “the better party” at handling national security and defense issues. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald) Kim says the Democratic Party of Korea is the “the better party” at handling national security and defense issues. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

The lawmaker challenged the views that conservatives are better at national security and defense.

Kim said that the Democratic Party was “the better party when it comes to matters of national security and defense,” contrary to popular perceptions that favor the rival People Power Party in those areas.

“It’s funny. Conservatives are supposed to be good at handling national security issues, but when they are in power, they really aren’t,” he said.

He said defense spending was one key measure of an administration’s commitment to national security.

“During the last Moon administration, the increase in yearly defense budget was between 5 and 6 percent. By contrast, the Yoon administration’s defense spending increase is just 4 percent,” he said. Considering that the inflation rate is now around 5 percent, a 4 percent increase was actually a decrease, he explained.

“This goes to show how the conservative party is all words and no action. Our party, on the other hand, is committed to investing in national defense and improving the welfare of our men and women in uniform.”

He said that the missile firing and other military provocations by North Korea “may help” the ruling People Power Party in the election.

“When tensions escalate, people tend to want to empower the ruling party and the administration in power because they’re the ones that need to navigate the crisis. So North Korea’s provocations may give the ruling party a bit of an advantage,” he said.

“But the Yoon administration is not managing the crisis. They are sliding toward a war. While it is North Korea that is taking these military actions, such a hawkish approach on our part may be provoking, not resolving, the crisis.”

He said that in his recent encounters with voters in Namyangju, a city north of Seoul, they have told him they were worried by the frequent weapons tests and other shows of force by North Korea.

He said that for over three years during the Moon administration, South Korea enjoyed a period of peace before “unfortunately, once again entering a rocky phase.”

Kim is running for a second National Assembly term in Namyangju, where he maintains a steady lead over the People Power Party candidate, Kwak Kwan-yong, according to several polls.