Book on Trump raises worries in South Korea about alliance

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Donald Trump had to be tricked out of killing a U.S.-South Korean trade deal? He threatened to move a U.S. missile defense system from South Korea to Oregon? He ordered a plan for a pre-emptive attack on North Korea?

These supposed moves by Trump, detailed in journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, will cause bafflement and worry among government officials in Seoul. But, for many South Koreans, they just add more pieces of evidence to an established picture of an erratic U.S. leader who thinks little of an alliance forged in the turmoil of the Korean War and often described here as a “bond of blood.”

“South Koreans have already seen Trump’s childish behavior many times,” an editorial writer for the conservative Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s most-read newspaper, wrote in a column Friday about Woodward’s book, comparing the president to a “rugby ball that could bounce anywhere” if not watched by others.

South Korea, before Trump, had become used to regular, glowing declarations from U.S. leaders of both political parties about the eternal strength of their alliance. The country, after all, is a global success story, rising from the poverty and destruction of the war into Asia’s fourth-biggest economy; it’s a regional bulwark of democratic, capitalist values and a leader in culture, trade and good works.

So long before Woodward’s book, South Koreans were shocked at Trump’s open complaints about the costs of maintaining the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as protection against North Korean attack; at his decision, after his June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to abruptly shelve major U.S. military exercises with South Korea; at his claim that the “horrible” U.S. free trade pact with South Korea destroyed U.S. industry and his insistence that Seoul renegotiate.

When asked by The Associated Press whether he has ever seen a U.S. president who was so openly dismissive of the U.S.-South Korean alliance, Kim Sung-han, a former South Korean deputy foreign minister, said, “No.”

“He’s the first and hopefully the last exception,” said Kim, whose last posting in the South Korean Foreign Ministry was in 2013 and who has never met Trump. “He doesn’t approach alliances with a strategic mindset, but only evaluates their transactional value. He constantly questions whether the United States needs any alliance. He thinks that if a partner wants to keep an alliance, it should pay 100 percent of the costs.”

Many of the most explosive excerpts from the soon-to-be published book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” deal with the Koreas.

Trump reportedly ordered a plan to pre-emptively attack the North; he suggested that a U.S. missile defense system in the South meant to guard against North Korean attack should be moved to Portland, Oregon; and a former Trump economic official allegedly swiped papers from Trump’s desk so he wouldn’t sign an order killing the free trade agreement between the countries.