Trump’s Hanoi Walkout Upends South Korean Politics

Trump’s Hanoi Walkout Upends South Korean Politics
South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrives at Phnom Penh International Airport, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 14, 2019 (AP photo by Heng Sinith).

When President Donald Trump stunned the world last year by agreeing to hold a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un—the first-ever meeting between an American president and a North Korean head of state—it felt like a punch in the gut to South Korean conservatives. Hard-liners on North Korea, they were already roiling from corruption scandals that had brought down President Park Geun-hye with massive protests in 2016 and led to the election of President Moon Jae-in.

Now, after Trump’s abrupt decision late last month to walk out of talks with North Korea during his second summit with Kim, he has pulled the rug out from under South Korean liberals, most of all Moon. South Korea’s president, who has pushed for diplomacy with the North, was all set to celebrate what he thought would be a successful summit in Hanoi. Instead, Trump’s moves on North Korea have roiled South Korea’s politics even more.

The collapse of the Hanoi summit came as a shock to Moon, who has all but staked his presidency on ending tensions with the North. In a speech planned for the day after Trump and Kim’s meeting, Moon sought to present new, far-reaching proposals for economic cooperation to cement better ties between Seoul and Pyongyang, building on what he thought would be a deal that entailed the U.S. lifting sanctions and corresponding steps by North Korea to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure.

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