President Donald Trump upset South Korea at precisely the wrong time.
Trump shocked the longstanding U.S. ally and trading partner in an interview with Reuters last Thursday with two unexpected announcements: He wants Seoul to pay for a missile defense system the United States is deploying there, and he wants to renegotiate the existing free trade agreement between the two countries.
The comments came against a high-stakes backdrop: Tensions are rising around North Korea's nuclear threat, and South Korea is on the cusp of a presidential vote on Tuesday — with a lot at stake not just for South Korea but also for the shape of its future alignment with the United States.
"In terms of South Korea's diplomatic politics, this came at a very bad time," said Scott Snyder, director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It creates an opportunity for [the missile defense] issue to be even further politicized in South Korea in ways that will not serve U.S. or South Korean interests."