the real deal
President Trump is hosting South Korea's new president, Moon Jae-in, at the White House on Thursday and Friday, and their first meeting will focus on the threat from North Korea — the two leaders have different views on how to interact with Pyongyang. But Trump and Moon are also expected to discuss economic issues, like trade. Trump, as a candidate and president, has made several critical comments about South Korea, calling the five-year-old free-trade pact "a horrible deal," saying Seoul should pay the U.S. for its THAAD missile-defense system, and arguing in a debate that "South Korea is a money machine but they pay us peanuts ... South Korea should pay us very substantially for protecting them."
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster quickly walked back the THAAD payment threat, and on Wednesday night, a senior White House official told reporters in a background briefing that Trump and Moon probably "will have a friendly and frank discussion about the trade relationship." But the official White House briefer also directly contradicted Trump's frequent assessment of South Korea as a freeloader.
"South Korea in many respects is the model ally because they are spending somewhere in the order of 2.7 percent of their GDP on their defense," the official said, according to Axios. "Burden-sharing is always going to be part of the conversation with our allies. President Trump has made that clear, but we shouldn't view South Korea as somehow laggard on that front." In fact, South Korea has spent an "enormous amount of money to help host U.S. troops in their country including through things like ... the new base, south of Seoul, which 92 percent of that cost was shouldered by South Korea."
Given the political and geopolitical differences between Trump and Moon, some observers are nervous about Thursday's cocktails and dinner and Friday's meeting. But Choi Jong-kun, a professor at Seoul's Yonsei University and a foreign policy adviser to Moon, shrugged. "It's a meeting between two people who haven't met each other, so anything can happen," he told The Wall Street Journal. "But the alliance is not just about the personal relationship, but about institutional consistency."