[INTERVIEW] 'Direct talks between US, N. Korea unlikely,' says Heritage founder
Posted : 2017-03-06 16:59
Updated : 2017-03-07 09:08
Edwin Feulner, founder of the Heritage Foundation, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times in Manila, Wednesday. / Courtesy of Global Peace Foundation
Heritage founder predicts Trump will play hardball on North Korea
By Kim Hyo-jin
MANILA ― U.S. President Donald Trump is unlikely to comply with North Korea's demand for direct talks over the latter's nuclear program, according to Trump's top security adviser.
"I think President Trump and his national security team will want to engage with all the principle parties but he will do it in close collaboration with Seoul and Tokyo," Edwin Feulner, founder of the Heritage Foundation, said in an interview on March 1.
Feulner, who served as a senior adviser to Trump's transition team, visited the Philippines to attend the Global Peace Convention hosted by the U.S.-based civic organization Global Peace Foundation.
"If the North's leader Kim Jong-un assumes the Trump administration is going to be friendly and more willing to engage in direct dialogue, it's badly mistaken," he said. "And that will be the coherent ally position among the people involved and all three on our side."
The adviser forecast that Trump will put more pressure on China ― the sponsor of North Korea, he believes, being the main reason of its continued development of nuclear capabilities and missile defense delivery system.
Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported recently that Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are coordinating a schedule to meet in April. Amid high speculation on a bilateral summit, Feulner said Trump could call for China's action on North Korea directly.
"I think President Trump will talk to the Chinese leadership very specifically about what other points of pressure China can apply to the DPRK," he said.
Feulner presented imposing secondary sanctions on Chinese entities doing business with the North as one of the possible options against Beijing, saying, "If it became necessary, Trump would not hesitate to do that."
He also said the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in South Korea will be on the agenda in their summit, if realized.
"When President Trump and his team meet with Xi there will be a robust defense of THAAD," he said.
"There will be a strong representation to China that this is a defensive system and this is not something for China to be annoyed with Korea about. This is in everybody's interests. If China properly had reined in the DPRK, we wouldn't need THAAD because the DPRK wouldn't have missile delivery system."
Touching upon the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA), Feulner said the Trump administration is likely to re-evaluate the five-year-old pact at some point. He believes it needs to be updated to reflect the change of structures and technologies.
"There are questions of interpretation in terms and interpretation of how this could be improved and clarified," he said.
"KORUS FTA is not something I think Trump will throw out but somewhere, sometime, he is going to say to his team that this is something that should be looked at and that makes good sense."
Feulner is a noted pro-Korean scholar who has a wide human network in South Korea, and is considered a top candidate for Trump's ambassador to South Korea.
The following is the full text of the interview.
Q. How high do you think the possibility is that the Trump administration will engage through direct dialogue with North Korea?
A. I think President Trump and his national security team will want to engage with all the principal parties but he will first want to do it in close collaboration with the government in Seoul, and secondly with the government in Tokyo. In given occasions, Washington, Seoul and Tokyo must be that close, they must all be close when they are talking about North Korea so I think if Kim Jong-un assumes the new administration is going to be friendly and more willing to engage in direct dialogue with the DPRK, he will be badly mistaken and he will face coherent allies among the people involved of all three on our side.
Q. When North Korea launched a missile, Trump's reaction was he could not accept it and it's going to be a big problem. Does it mean anyhow that direction or policy toward North Korea will change?
A. I've just watched a reply of Trump's speech to Congress today. He did not mention Korea but he did not mention Russia either, nor did he mention China. He mentioned radical Islamic terrorism and the War on Terror but other than what President Trump said to the first member of his Cabinet, Secretary of Defense Mattis, he said I want you to go overseas. He did not say go to NATO. He said go to Korea and go to Japan. So Mattis went first to Seoul and then to Tokyo. This shows that President Trump understands fully a need to have a close relationship with Seoul and with Tokyo. I think he knows his military advisers and diplomatic advisers and Secretary Tillerson are already taking action, such as the Tillerson discussion with the Chinese foreign minister on what new restrictions should be put on North Korea, the restrictions on coal exports from North Korea to China. So the U.S. policy will be strong, will be tough and will be, I think, coherent and consistent with what our allies expect in both Seoul and Tokyo. I understand from today's newspaper that a state counselor from Beijing and his party of five others visited Washington Tuesday and Wednesday. And on Tuesday they had a meeting with National Security Council members at the White House. And they said briefly hello to the president. And on Wednesday today they meet with state department officials. This is preparatory to a meeting between President Xi and Trump to be arranged wherever it will happen. I'm sure the question of North Korea will come up in those discussions that will be high on the agenda when President Trump meets with the president of China.
Q. What do you think the Trump administration expects from China in dealing with North Korea's nuclear programs and how do you think it plans to get China's support?
A. As a candidate President Trump said several times during his campaign that he did not think China was doing everything it could in terms of reining in Kim Jong-un and the regime in North Korea in terms of making them act in a responsible way as members of the U.N. and as a government in the civilized system of the world. So I think President Trump will talk to the Chinese leadership very specifically about what other points of pressure China can apply to the DPRK and I believe that I would recommend to him that if it became necessary for secondary boycotts of Chinese entities doing business with North Korea that if it became necessary before the United States unilaterally imposes more restrictions on ships into and out of North Korean ports that Mr. Trump would not hesitate to do that. Because I believe he knows and certainly his advisers know the continued development of nuclear capabilities and the missile defense delivery system by North Korea is not acceptable.
Q. When Kim Jong-nam was assassinated in Malaysia, the Trump administration hinted at a possibility of placing North Korea back on a list of nations that support terrorism. Do you think the U.S. will deal with the matter alone or use U.N. power? How do you think he will approach it?
A. One of the things Mr. Trump said consistently when considering questions like that is never assume anything is off the table. In other words, all options would be available to him. I don't think what options he might think of in that regard. But I know that actions like assassinating somebody in a third country is not acceptable in international behavior and Mr. Trump and people around him would view it not acceptable in international behavior and so any option like beyond the table whether it would be with the U.N or unilateral declaration of additional sanctions.
Q. Trump recently graded his presidential performance so far an A in a recent interview with Fox News. But we know his public approval rating is not so high. How do you view of his anti-immigration and America-first policies? Would you still support Trump even when the cost of protectionism in trade and nationalist policy is passed onto customers?
A. He gives himself A for the content and C for his communicating. Watch his speech to the joint session of the Congress because I think he became A+ in communicating. It was one of the most sincere and high level presidential speeches I've heard in the past 35 years. It was a very, very good speech and it sets a new standard for him to be able to work with the Congress and to work broadly on policies together. President Trump has said several times that I would put America's interests first. I have the honor in my many years of working with Korea and visiting Korea and personally with every one of the seven presidents of Korea going back to Chun Doo-hwan, Roh Tae-woo, Kim Young-sam, and Kim Dae-jung _ every one of them put the interests of Korea first. Every president that I've known, going back to Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan they all put America's interests first and that is for a leader expected to do for his own people and now you interpret that in different ways. I think as the president said before the Congress he believes in free trade but he also believes in fair trade. And fair trade means as he said Harley Davidson motorcycles on the front lawn of the White House and the countries where Harley Davidson motorcycles comes in as a 100 percent import duty and that was not fair I think. When it gets to the details of trade negotiations of whether the KORUS FTA has to be reevaluated, I think those are second- or third-tiered questions that they will get to eventually and I think we can worry about that a bit later. Let us look then at agreements that are signed in the past that are more simple and straightforward. The U.S. free trade agreement with Singapore basically says free trade and no import barriers on either side, two simple pages. That's easy. The other sides of agreements are NAFTA: very complicated, three countries involved and labor, environment inclusions involved. In 25 years, all of Mexico's energy was controlled by one company, PEMEX. 25 years ago, basically there was no internet. Clearly negotiations with NAFTA are something that needs to be reevaluated, reconsidered, hey we should change this and update that _ we could simplify the other things. In between the simple straightforward one with Singapore and the very complicated and old one with NAFTA, is something like KORUS FTA. It's been in place now for five years. I'm a strong supporter of the FTA _ you probably know that. But since the FTA came into effect five years ago I've been back to Korea 17, 18 times; when I talked to Korean-American businessmen and people in the Korean government and in the American Embassy, there are questions of interpretation in terms and interpretation of how this could be improved and clarified. So KORUS FTA is not something I don't think Trump will throw out but somewhere, sometime he is going to say to his team that this is something partly that should be looked at and that makes good sense. But I think that's not going to be a high priority for President Trump or Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross who is apparently going to be in charge of all these negotiations, or for the U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer. One of the other things on the agenda when President Trump and his team meet with Xi and his team, there will be a robust defense of THAAD. And there will be a robust defense of THAAD for three reasons. One, they should not be opposing it. Two, because it is a defensive system. And that's why South Korea and the U.S. agreed to it. And three, if China had been more firm in its dealings with DPRK there will be no need for THAAD because there would not be any NK capability of launching ballistic missiles which South Korea has defended itself against. In Washington, virtually everyone across the political spectrum, left and right, progressives and conservatives, believes the Chinese government can control government in Pyongyang. And therefore it was up to China to really rein in DPRK in terms of why THAAD would not be necessary if they had controlled North Korea's missile system.
Q. What do you think of the possibility of Finlandization of South Korea?
A. Korea and the U.S. have built in blood over 60 years a bilateral bond that means the U.S. will not let South Korea Finlandize. Beyond that I think it's something we have seen in progress in the last few years; Japan is increasingly, I believe, willing to admit that Korea can be a positive partner in that therefore Korea, the U.S. and Japan can be all together on the strategic questions. Korea is a G-20 member and is a significant partner as close allies of the U.S. and heavily dependent between Korea and Japan on U.S. troops located in Japan for the defense of the ROK. The three together, it's virtually impossible to think of South Korea's being Finlandized. Just 25 years ago, I remember when Donald Rumsfeld was secretary of defense and he was confronted by hostile people in Seoul about why you don't withdraw U.S. troops. He told the people who said this to him if you push on that door, there will be no resistance on the U.S. side. If you want, we will leave. I think we've come a long way together in terms of we need each other and we need Japan very close with us. So I think Finlandization is not an issue anymore.
Q. The issue in Korea is China's economic retaliation against its business operations. How do you think South Korea should respond to this pressure?
A. I'd hope when the U.S. has further meetings with PRC I assume my conversations with military commanders in theater and senior military who are still serving now under President Trump, THAAD deployment is going ahead and it will happen in Korea and there will be a strong representation to China that this is a defensive system and this is not something for China to be annoyed with Korea about. This is in everybody's interests. If, as I mentioned before, China properly reined in DPRK, we wouldn't need THAAD because DPRK wouldn't have a missile delivery system.
Q. Ever since he criticized allies for not sharing enough of the burden in defense costs there are concerns he might make a push at some point. Do you think there's a possibility the Trump administration would ask South Korea to pay a bigger share of the expenses?
A. I think burden-sharing is under a constant review but the fact that Secretary of Defense Mattis made his first stop and overseas trip to Seoul to reaffirm the mutual defense treaty was a sign that it's basically in good order. I'd not worry about that.
Q. Koreans are concerned about Trump's America-first policy given that they have an export-driven economy. How do you think they should view it?
A. Economies exist to serve the people. Economic growth means there are more people at every income level, not just people at the top. With a revitalized, altered Korean economic structure, there will be more economic growth and opportunities for everybody up and down in the Korean structure. This will take time. I'm not saying the chaebol system will be overthrown or anything like that. Now there are new opportunities for intellectual properties for opportunities to remake and to alter the economy for the future to make it possible for many more people to do so much more. The old economy is changing. I reminded people when during the campaign at one time that Senator Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general of the United States and one of the earliest and closest political advisers, and when Trump was talking at one point that cheap Korean and Japanese cars are coming in. I reminded people in the campaign that Hyundai cars are mostly made in Senator Sessions' home state of Alabama they are not being made in Korea. With the innovative economy, intellectual property that starts in Korea that ends up in Alabama and both Korean people develop the intellectual property and Americans assemble it, it's a net plus-plus for everybody. And that is what people close to Mr. Trump want to find and they want to find what the plus is for the Americans as you ask your President what's the plus for Koreans.
Q. Owing to the presidential corruption scandal, Samsung CEO Lee Jae-young was imprisoned and other corporate executives are being grilled by the prosecution. The Financial Times recently commented that it would fuel hopes of corporate reform _ the long-held political risks, collusive ties between chaebol and politicians. What's your view on this?
A. Jay Lee is a young man whom I've known for a very long time and whom I admired greatly. The chaebol system in Korea is the one that I've studied and examined for more than 40 years and as I look at it, I see signs it is changing and the Korean economy is opening. There's more transparency and there are more opportunities for SMEs that there is more potential down the line for a more vigorous competitive Korean economy at all levels, not just the top 10 or 20 chaebols.