As President Moon Jae-in and his foreign policy and security advisers anxiously await a state visit by US President Donald Trump, anti-American groups in South Korea are having a heyday.
The groups held a series of demonstrations over the weekend to protest the US president’s visit. On Saturday, protesters gathered in downtown Seoul to protest Trump’s two-day visit, coming during his first trip to Asia as president.
The rallies, which also took place in other major cities like Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Daejeon and Ulsan, were organized by a coalition of about 220 civic groups. The “Collective Action for No Trump” also plans to hold another “No Trump, No War” candlelight vigil on the night of Trump’s arrival Tuesday.
The protesters say they oppose the visit of the US president because he has stoked fears of war on the Korean Peninsula with provocative statements on North Korea. One case they frequently mention is Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” the North if it attacks the US or its allies.
It is not totally groundless to say that Trump’s tone and choice of words have contributed to escalating fears of war on the peninsula, but the real fear of war comes from the fact that there are nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in the hands of a young, unpredictable dictator of a rogue regime just to our north.
The protesters also claim that sanctions and military pressure cannot resolve the nuclear crisis that the US and South Korea should first end their joint military drills to bring the North to the negotiation table.
Do they really believe that the joint military exercises, most of them intended to increase defense capability against a possible attack from the North, are the only reason Pyongyang has kept developing its nuclear arsenal and missiles?
The protesters insist that Trump is coming to South Korea to sell US arms. They also demand the withdrawal of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system from South Korea. They also forget the South Korea-US military alliance was the decisive factor in driving out the North’s invaders in the Korean War and further deterring another war on the peninsula.
Besides their belief in the wrong cause, the anti-Trump protesters resort to contemptible means that raise a lot of eyebrows. Last month, anti-American protesters who had gathered in Busan on the occasion of the US Navy’s birthday and called the US president a “dotard,” a word North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had used to condemn Trump in the heat of a war of words. In August, some anti-American protests even burned an effigy of the US president.
It was more comical and annoying than outrageous that a group of Korean youths attempted to visit the US to “teach Americans how to impeach Trump in the same way Koreans ousted Park Geun-hye.” Would they be happy if a similar group of US protesters came to tell us how to solve our domestic issues?
These ill-advised people say they will go after the US president wherever he goes during his visit from Tuesday. They plan to hold protests near Cheong Wa Dae when Moon holds talks with Trump and also demonstrate near the National Assembly when the US leader addresses the parliament.
What good will it do the nation to provoke a visiting foreign head of state and his fellow compatriots? Concerns have already been raised that the recent anti-American protests here have annoyed some Americans, with social media spreading the sentiment. That kind of development is least desirable in the view of the need for the two allies to work together closely to deal with the North Korean crisis.
What’s relieving is that the Seoul Metropolitan Agency has rejected many applications for rallies filed by the anti-Trump coalition, including those near Cheong Wa Dae. Police should enforce the restrictions strictly to prevent any mishap that might provoke Trump and his entourage.
What cannot be denied is that many of the anti-US, anti-Trump protests come from radical and progressive groups that had been the traditional support base for President Moon. Perhaps Moon or his senior aides could issue a personal appeal to them to behave themselves this time.