Former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton strongly criticized President Donald Trump’s disruptive rhetoric on North Korea, while speaking in South Korea on Wednesday.
“There is no reason for us to be bellicose and aggressive,” said Clinton during an address to the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul.
Clinton took issue with the president’s disparaging description of Kim Jong Un as “little rocket man” and his threats to respond to a North Korean provocation with “fire and fury.”
“With the fate of millions of people resting on a diplomatic resolution to the crisis with North Korea, it should go without saying that cavalier threats to start a war are dangerous and shortsighted,” she said.
She also said that “picking fights with Kim Jong Un just puts a smile on his face” and gives the leadership in Pyongyang the international attention it craves.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week had defended President Trump’s disruptive tweets and public comments as attempts to “create action forcing events” to move diplomacy forward.
While Clinton disagreed with Trump’s aggressive style, she seemed to endorse his administration’s overall coercive diplomacy strategy to pressure the Kim Jong Un government to give up its nuclear weapons program.
She agreed that North Korea’s rapid progress toward developing a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the U.S. mainland constitutes an existential security threat to the United States.
But the former secretary of state offered no alternative policy prescriptions to prevent further testing, proposed no inducements or concessions to facilitate talks and offered no comment on the Chinese and Russian proposal to freeze the North Korean nuclear program in exchange for a suspension of U.S., South Korean military drills.
Instead she echoed the Trump administration in advocating that the international community should increase economic sanctions on North Korea to force Kim Jong Un to denuclearize or face collapse, that China must do more to implement sanctions, and that in the meantime U.S. allies need to maintain a strong military deterrence.
Clinton was also critical of China's retaliatory actions against South Korean companies doing business in China following the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea.
De facto nuclear state
Clinton said the United States and its allies should respond with “proportional” force to a North Korean provocation, while Trump has said the U.S. would “totally destroy North Korea” if attacked.
Any preventive military action to eliminate North Korean nuclear or missile sites risks triggering a war that could devastate and destabilize the region. But a number of leaders and analysts say sanctions alone will not force the leadership in Pyongyang to give up its nuclear deterrent, especially in light of Trump’s threatening language.
“I think we have to accept the reality that we are going to be living with a nuclear armed North Korea for the foreseeable future. As a practical matter denuclearization is no longer a realistic objective,” said Gary Samore, a former White House arms control coordinator during the administration of President Barack Obama, who is currently with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Clinton also said the United States needs to be a steady, consistent and predictable force to keep the peace in Asia, and that Trump’s approach has been both reckless and counterproductive.
Washington's allies, she said, have expressed concerns over the reliability of the United States given Trump’s past criticisms on unfair trade and insufficient defense payments to host U.S. military forces in the region.
President Trump is scheduled to make his first official visit to Asia in early November. He will travel to Japan, South Korea and China before attending trade and security summits in Vietnam and the Philippines.
The South Korean presidential office said in a statement that it expects President Trump to “address not only bolstering the Korea/U.S. alliance, and a response to North Korea’s nuclear problems, but also his policy vision on the peninsula and Northeast Asia.”
Youmi Kim in Seoul contributed to this report