Trump’s Reaganesque speech in Seoul: ‘Tale of one people, but two Koreas’

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metzlerBy John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — U.S. President Donald’s Trump’s whirlwind trip to East Asia was fraught with both promise and peril; the promise of expanding commercial alliances and reinforcing military alliances, and the peril of confronting North Korea’s ominous nuclear threat.

In Seoul, South Korea’s bustling and free capital, the President made a signature policy address outlining the conflicting challenges which intersect on the divided Korean peninsula.

President Donald Trump addresses the National Assembly in Seoul.
President Donald Trump addresses the National Assembly in Seoul. Watch.

Contrary to the smirky naysayers in much of the American media, and skeptical and nervous politicians in South Korea itself, The Donald spoke before the Korean National Assembly to deliver not a boilerplate political speech but a sober, serious and uplifting policy address.

The speech cited South Korea’s impressive economic miracle as well as its democratic political transformation. Importantly Trump outlined a clear case for deterrence in face of nuclear threats.

President Trump’s tone was clearly Reaganesque.

Recalling the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean War which reduced much of the country to rubble, he then advised, “Over the next two generations something miraculous happened on the southern half of this peninsula… In less than one lifetime South Korea climbed from total devastation to among the wealthiest countries on earth.”

“Today your economy is more than 350 times lager than it was in 1960 … what you have built is truly an inspiration,” he stated, adding, “Your wealth is measured in more than money, it is measured in achievements of the mind and achievements of spirit.”

Seoul’s respected but often critical Korea Times stated editorially, “Call it the media’s collective failure to see through his true colors or Trump’s Cinderella moment, but Trump turned out a white knight during his speech at the National Assembly.”

Yet the magnificent city of Seoul and the National Assembly Hall where the President spoke is dangerously close to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the peninsula into South/North.

President Trump added, “The Korean miracle extends exactly as far as the armies of free nations advanced in 1953, 24 miles to the north and There it stops; Dead Stop. The flourishing ends, and the prison state of North Korea sadly begins.”

Describing the neo-Stalinist communist state of the quaintly titled Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the President reflected the findings of human rights monitors including the UN: “An estimated 100,000 North Koreans suffer in gulags, toiling in forced labor and enduring torture, starvation, rape and murder.”

Citing Korea as presenting the “tragic experiment in a laboratory of history, It is a tale of one people, but two Koreas. One Korea in which the people took control of their lives and chose a future of freedom and justice of civilization and incredible achievement. And another Korea in which leaders imprison their people under the banner of tyranny.”

Significantly the president pointed out, “When the Korean War began in 1950, the two Koreas were approximately equal in GDP per capita. By the 1990’s, South Korea’s nearly had surpassed North Korea by more than 10 times. And today, the South’s economy is over 40 times larger.”

Then the President got serious, “North Korea is a country ruled as a cult.” Regarding North Korea’s nuclear threats both to East Asia and the USA, the President advised, “America does not seek conflict or confrontation, but we will never run from it. History is filled with degraded regimes that have foolishly tested America’s resolve.”

“The time for excuses is over. Now is the time for strength. If you want peace, you must stand strong at all times. The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens with nuclear devastation,” Trump underscored.

He directly and forcefully addressed North Korea’s leadership; “The weapons you are acquiring are not making you safer. They are putting your regime in grave danger.” He added poignantly, “Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.”

He called for North Korea to “end aggression and to stop your development of ballistic missiles, and complete, verifiable and total denuclearization.” Offering a strong dose of optimism the President spoke of ending “this nuclear nightmare replaced with the beautiful promise of peace.”

Donald’s Trump’s landmark address presented a clear challenge but offered opportunity too. Had his predecessor made the same speech, trumpets of praise and adulation would have been echoed throughout the media.

But now the real work begins. Trump wooed and cajoled Korea’s neighbors, Japan, China, and Russia who all have a stake in peace on the peninsula. Yet the question remains whether Trump really made the case.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]