The U.S. is crab-walking away from Trump’s statement that South Korea should pay for a new missile defense system. This is really bad timing for upsetting the South Koreans, for reasons Michael Auslin notes in an excellent piece on the North Korea crisis in the new issue of NR:
Finally, this crisis may be different because of South Korea. The impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye has turned South Korean politics upside down. It appears that progressive Democratic-party candidate Moon Jae-in will replace her in the upcoming election; and, if not, the winner will almost certainly be center-left politician Ahn Cheol-soo, of the People’s party. Either way, the next leader of South Korea may well decide to return the country to the “sunshine policy” of the 1990s, which was based on engagement with North Korea and a distancing from the United States.
Candidate Moon, in particular, has demonstrated an openness to downgrading South Korea’s alliance with Washington and moving closer to both Pyongyang and Beijing. That could lead to the formation of a bloc of countries opposed to the United States and Japan; the former would find its influence severely diminished, while the latter would face new, difficult questions about how best to defend itself. It is unlikely that anything like a formal alliance, let alone unification with the Kim regime, would take place, but the result nonetheless would isolate Washington and strengthen Beijing as it weighs whether to work with Kim or precipitate his removal from power. South Korea would have set in motion a train of events that would reshape northeast Asia and dramatically increase the power of illiberal states.
By the way, this is a good time to check out Michael’s book on Asia: