President Donald Trump departed for China this morning, the third leg of his 12-day tour of Asia – his first visit to the continent since taking office – but not before delivering a “rousing speech” to South Korean lawmakers where he warned the North not to “underestimate” the US – a sharp change in tone from yesterday, when he encouraged the North to “make a deal” with the US that he said would be in their mutual interest. During his address in Seoul, Trump directed his words at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, warning him that “the weapons that you are acquiring are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.” More details on Trump’s speech from Reuters:
“This is a very different administration than the United States has had in the past,” Mr. Trump said in an address to South Korean lawmakers Wednesday. “Do not underestimate us, and do not try us.”
The president called on Mr. Kim to abandon his country’s nuclear-weapons program as he contrasted the successful capitalist economy of South Korea with that of the North, whose economy is many times smaller. Both countries’ output was similar in 1953, when the end of the Korean War left the peninsula divided.
“North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned—it is a hell that no person deserves,” Mr. Trump said, referring to North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung. “We will offer a path to a much better future,” he continued. “It begins with an end to the aggression of your regime, a stop to the development of ballistic missiles and complete, verifiable and total denuclearization.”
Abandoning the conciliatory tone that he briefly adopted on Tuesday, Trump painted a picture of the North as a dystopian hellscape where the state forces couples to get abortions, and where citizens would rather be sold to work as de facto slaves in a foreign country than stay in North Korea.
Using some of his Trump used some of his toughest language yet against North Korea in a wide-ranging address in Seoul that lodged specific accusations of chilling human rights abuses. He called on countries around the world to isolate Pyongyang by denying it “any form of support, supply or acceptance.”
“Do not underestimate us and do not try us,” Trump told North Korea as he wrapped up a visit to South Korea with a speech to the National Assembly before heading to Beijing, where he was making his first official visit.
Trump painted a dystopian picture of the reclusive North, saying people were suffering in “gulags” and some bribed government officials to work as “slaves” overseas rather than live under the government at home. He offered no evidence to support those accusations.
“The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation,” Trump said, speaking as three U.S. aircraft carrier groups sailed to the Western Pacific for exercises – a rare show of such U.S. naval force in the region.
For all its bluster, the speech included a few moments of levity. In true Trump fashion, the president, an avid golfer, also praised the success of the South Korean women who finished in the top four spots at the tournament held earlier this year at Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“What you have built is truly an inspiration,” he said.
Going back to North Korea, in his speech, Trump painted a bleak picture of life in North Korea: citizens, he said, bribe government officials to be sold into slavery rather than remain in their own country, and “ethnically inferior” unborn children are aborted, or killed after birth.
That said, Trump, whose strategy has stressed sanctions and military pressure instead of diplomacy, did not spell out any new approach. This is problematic as North Korea has made clear it has little interest in negotiations at least until it develops a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, something U.S. intelligence officials say it may be just months away from achieving.
“North Korea is a country ruled by a cult,” Trump concluded his speech which was interrupted several times by applause and ended with a standing ovation.
Trump’s 35-minute address to the South Korean National Assembly was the last major event of his roughly 24 hours in the country. The president departed shortly afterward for China, the third of five countries he plans to visit on his 10-day swing through Asia.
Following the speech, the US and South Korea released a joint statement, pledging “to maintain close consultation, coordination, and cooperation on North Korea policy.
After Trump’s speech ended, the North’s Central News Agency responded with a statement accusing Trump of being a “political heretic” and a “lunatic old man”.
North Korea, meanwhile, said it was entirely Washington’s responsibility to control the situation to avoid a “horrible nuclear disaster and tragic doom.”
“The world is undergoing unprecedented throes because of Trump, a notorious political heretic,” state-run newspaper Minju Joson said in a commentary Wednesday, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
“The U.S. must oust the lunatic old man from power and withdraw the hostile policy towards the DPRK at once in order to get rid of the abyss of doom,” it added, using an abbreviation for the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Trump left South Korea Wednesday morning and headed to China, where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping continued their “bromance” that began when Xi visited Mar-a-Lago back in April, where the two world leaders famously bonded over a large slice of chocolate cake. Trump and his counterpart share a mutual admiration that is strengthened by the fact that both Trump and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, are widely loved and respected by the Chinese people. In keeping with Xi’s promise to create a “state-visit-plus” for Trump, the two leaders made small talk as they toured the Forbidden City – which was shut down to tourists – with their wives before taking in a Chinese opera performance. While the sprawling palace complex in the political and cultural heart of Beijing is a regular stop for visiting dignitaries, it is rare for a Chinese leader to act as a personal escort.
During his two-day visit, Trump will ask China to abide by U.N. resolutions and cut financial links with North Korea, a senior White House official said on the plane from Seoul. He also plans to discuss with Xi the long-contentious trade imbalance. The two leaders are set to hold formal talks on Thursday, where the issues of containing North Korea and mitigating the massive Chinese trade surplus with the US are expected to dominate the conversation.
China has long encouraged the US and the North to pursue a diplomatic solution, Trump believes any talks with North Korea would require it to reduce threats, end provocations and move toward denuclearization, and that no deal can be achieved without denuclearization. The Trump administration also suspects that China has been continuing its support for the North despite the stringent UN sanctions that China, which has permanent veto power at the Security Council, voted to approve in September following the North’s latest nuclear test.
Trump, Reuters said, will try to convince Xi to squeeze North Korea further by limiting oil shipments and financial transactions. However, it is not clear if Xi, who has just consolidated his power at a Communist Party congress, will agree to do more. Because as much as the North has become a diplomatic nuisance, China believes it must continue to prop up the regime, or else lose its buffer against US forces in South Korea.