In South Korea Race, One Topic Eclipses Others: Trump


SEOUL, South Korea — A hostile, nuclear-armed neighbor with heavy artillery aimed at their capital. Cronyism in government. Corruption in business.

These issues and more are weighing on South Koreans as they head to a presidential election on Tuesday. But much of the campaign has revolved around a wild card, one the candidates are fighting to prove they are uniquely equipped to handle: President Trump.

In his first months in office, Mr. Trump’s contradictory statements about the Korean Peninsula have shattered South Koreans’ image of the American leader as a symbol of stability in their 60-year alliance with Washington.

Mr. Trump has threatened to end what he called a “horrible” free-trade agreement with South Korea. He has said the country should pay for an American advanced missile defense system, contradicting an earlier commitment from Washington. He has warned of a “major, major conflict” with North Korea, while also saying he would be “honored” to meet with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, under the right circumstances.

How to manage “the Trump risk,” as local news media put it, has become a major campaign issue. The candidates are falling over themselves to show they would be the best at handling him, either by drawing him closer or by being tougher.

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