On January 22 (local time), U.S. President Donald Trump decided to make safeguard measures to restrict the import of washing machines from South Korea. That day, those supporting South Korean President Moon Jae-in displayed an advertisement at the Times Square to celebrate his 66th birthday.
The U.S. President made his decision amid high-ranking inter-Korean talks related to the North’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics. He accepted the demand of Whirlpool without any exception in spite of advice from the U.S. International Trade Commission and local consumers’ preference for innovative products. Whirlpool accounted for 38.4% of the U.S. washing machine market in the third quarter of last year, but Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are about to catch up with Whirlpool with its products lacking innovative features. Under the circumstances, Whirlpool has focused on lobbying to the Donald Trump administration.
Since his election, the President of the United States has put his supporters above everything else, including traditional liberal values based on free and fair competition and innovation long cherished by none other than the U.S.
Policy decisions focusing on supporters are easily found in South Korea, too. The Moon Jae-in administration has clung to talks with the North while the rest of the world has been trying to make it give up on nuclear weapons. North Korea may be buying time to complete its nuclear weapons, and this is an uncomfortable situation for Washington and a cause of intra-national conflict in South Korea, where pro-North leftists are in power.
Concerns are rising over the clash between their policies focusing on those supporters as the clash can negatively affect the South Korea-U.S. alliance. Japan, which is recording a much larger trade surplus with the U.S. than South Korea, is currently free from trade pressures from the U.S. This is likely to be because the U.S. and Japan are sharing the same policy with regard to China and North Korea. Such U.S. move seems pretty far away from the words of its separating politics from trade as Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said during the ongoing negotiation for KORUS FTA revision.
The South Korean government has been somewhat quiet about China’s economic retaliation for THAAD deployment in the Korean Peninsula. On the contrary, the government is mentioning suspensions of concessions and WTO complaints after the US government made safeguard measures. In addition, it has been even reported that South Korea will deal with the measures together with China. However, although the current South Korean government is a leftist and pro-North one, it cannot be denied that most South Koreans are still friendlier to the U.S. than to China.
Excessive trade pressures from the U.S. may lead to a negative view on the country among those South Koreans who have been in favor of it for long. The U.S. needs to ponder, regardless of who is currently in power in South Korea, upon who will benefit from discord in the South Korea-U.S. alliance in which the same liberal democratic values are cherished and shared.