Before his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump talked on the phone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for 35 minutes and discussed Pyongyang’s ballistic missile test from its eastern port of Sinpo. But there was no phone conversation with acting Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn.
The missile test was seen as a way to overshadow the first U.S.-China summit since Trump took office and a possible prelude to a major provocation later this month. On April 15, North Korea will celebrate the 105th birthday of its founder Kim Il-sung, and Pyongyang has used his birthday for military provocations in the past.
Even though there is no president in Korea at the moment after Park Geun-hye was removed from office last month, Trump should have communicated with the acting president over security issues on the Korean Peninsula. Since North Korea is a key topic of the U.S.-China summit, Trump should have talked to Hwang about the background of the summit and how he plans to persuade China to play a more active role in sanctioning Pyongyang over military provocations.
Talking only to Abe and leaving Hwang out is seen by some Koreans as a sign that Trump is not interested in considering Korea’s view in dealing with North Korea.
There are other worrisome signs that Korea does not carry as much importance as some other countries in the Trump White House.
It has been several months since Trump took office, but he is yet to name an ambassador to Korea, while Washington has announced Trump’s picks for top envoys to Japan, China and Russia.
The media has coined the term “Korea passing” to describe Korea’s diplomatic isolation in the Trump era, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said such a term is groundless.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will visit Korea on April 16. The highest-level visit to Korea since Trump took office should be a meaningful occasion to discuss bilateral security and economic cooperation and reaffirm the ironclad alliance of the two countries.