The Remaking of South Korean Conservatism in the Age of Trump

Eun A Jo

The chemistry between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un has proved resilient to diplomatic doldrums. Trump has defended Kim against the revelations of another violent purge and applauded him for calling the Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden a “low IQ individual.” Not long after, they met for a widely featured handshake at the Korean border, making Trump the first sitting U.S. president to step on North Korean soil. Though little substantive progress was made in its aftermath, Trump has continued to excuse Kim’s missile launches as “standard” while deriding the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises as “ridiculous and expensive.” Now with the timely exit of John Bolton, hopes of another Trump-Kim summit are on the rise again.

Among the biggest losers of this largely hollow diplomatic exercise are South Korea’s conservatives. For them, Trump’s adulation of Kim poses a threat that is more profound than their policy setback on North Korea—it challenges their identity, which for decades had been defined by its anti-North Korean and pro-U.S. stance. One debate, in particular, lays bare this struggle: South Korea’s nuclear armament. 

South Korea’s Nuclear Future 

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