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Next US president will value S. Korea-US alliance, regardless of election outcome: US ambassador

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 7, 2020: A woman in a medical mask walks past a sign reading "I Love Seoul" in Gwanghwamun Square. The Chinese authorities registered an outbreak of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus in Wuhan in December 2019. Stanislav Varivoda/TASS. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Nov 5, 2020, Hankyoreh. US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris said that whoever wins the US presidential election will value the South Korea-US alliance. In a 57-second video posted on his official Twitter account on Nov. 4, Harris said, “Today is election day in the US, and I’m excited to witness American democracy in action,” Hankyoreh reported.

“In a short time we’ll know who the next president will be, either incumbent President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden. Whatever the outcome of the election, I am confident that we’ll have a leader who values the US-ROK alliance and is prepared to work together to maintain its strength into the future,” he continued.

“The Republic of Korea and the United States are bound together in countless ways, through our militaries, our economies, our experiences, our values, including our commitment to democratic principles, and most importantly through our people,” he said.

“The Republic of Korea is one of our most important allies and friends. Rest assured our strong bilateral partnership will endure,” he added.

“Please continue to follow America’s election day results as they come out,” he said.

A former commander of the US Pacific Fleet who became ambassador in July 2018, Harris faced criticism shortly afterwards with hard-line remarks in a conversation with reporters, where he insisted that North Korea would need to provide a list of its nuclear facilities before Pyongyang and Washington could make a declaration ending the Korean War. Denounced at the time as resembling the “governor-general of Korea” (a reference to Japan’s colonial occupation) he has since been praised for his “folksy” approach.

But regardless of Harris’s comments, the considerable differences in Trump and Biden’s foreign policy approaches has observers predicting significant changes to US policies for East Asia and South Korea-US relations depending on who is elected. If Trump is reelected, it appears certain that he will try to produce results on the North Korean nuclear issue through the same “top-down” approach to dialogue with Pyongyang that he has been practicing to date. Friction is also expected in negotiations on defense cost-sharing — where Trump at one point insisted that South Korea should pay US$5 billion per year, or five times its current share — and the matter of US Forces Korea (USFK) troop reductions, with Trump stating he hopes to pull out troops at some point.

In contrast, Biden’s position of valuing the traditional alliance relationship suggests that if he is elected, he will adopt a more flexible attitude than Trump on issues concerning defense cost-sharing and USFK. But North Korea-US nuclear negotiations appear likely to proceed through a “bottom-up” policy reexamination based on diligent working-level discussions, and pressure on South Korea to participate in “China containment” strategies such as the Quad is certain to intensify.

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