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The Peninsula

Korea and the Trump Administration: Confirmation Questions for State and Defense Nominees

Published January 9, 2017
Author: Mark Tokola

This is the first in a two part series looking at the potential questions senators should ask Trump Administration officials on North and South Korea policy during their confirmation hearings. The second part looking at the nominees for Commerce and USTR can be found here.

By Mark Tokola

Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution requires that the President make appointments with the advice and consent of the Senate.  Confirmation hearings are part of Senate’s process of giving “advice and consent.”  Although the confirmation process has become increasingly partisan, including for appointments to the Supreme Court, it still provides an opportunity for a public discussion of the policy views of incoming Administration officials as well as an examination of their personal backgrounds and qualifications.  Confirmation hearings also provide an early window into how Administrations see the world, what their priorities are, and how they intend to deal with challenges.

Those who have been through the confirmation process, and even those who just watch it, are often frustrated with the time-consuming speeches of the questioners, leading questions intended to push a policy line rather than to learn anything from the candidate, unnecessarily evasive or picayunish answers from the candidates, and the always unhelpful approach of “Just answer the question ‘yes’ or ‘no’!”  The shortage of time also means that important topics never have the opportunity to surface.

For the purposes of those with a particular interest in Northeast Asia, and Korea in particular, following are questions that we would love to see asked and answered during the upcoming confirmation hearings.  Even if they do not come up in the hearings, we will still be watching to see how the Trump Administration will deal with them over time:

For Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State Designate (Confirmation Hearing: January 11-12):

  • What is your diplomatic strategy in regard to North Korea?  Will you offer bilateral talks or do you support reinvigorating the Six-Party Talks framework?
  • Recent policy has been to not allow daylight between the United States and South Korea on North Korea policy. Will that continue in the Trump Administration? If the next South Korean government seeks a new approach to North Korea, what would the U.S. stance be?
  • In the absence of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, how will you strengthen economic ties with our Pacific allies?  Would you consider a bilateral trade agreement with Japan similar to the one we have with Korea?
  • Do you support the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as a means of liberalizing trade within Asia or do you see it as a threat to U.S. interests?
  • There have been plans to replace our 1962-vintage U.S. Embassy in Seoul for over thirty years.  Are you finally going to carry through with the project?

For James Mattis, Secretary of Defense Designate (Confirmation Hearing: January 12):

  • Is there a “red line” for the North Korean nuclear weapons program that would trigger a U.S. action?  Wouldn’t it be advisable to let them know where they must stop?
  • Given modern military capabilities, how really necessary is it to have U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and Japan?  If a fair burden sharing agreement cannot be reached, would you be willing to withdraw them?
  • Apart from questions of funding, what roles do you foresee for our Pacific allies?  What tasks should the Korean, Japanese, Australian, and New Zealand militaries assume?  Shouldn’t they be helping with Freedom of Navigation exercises in the South China Sea?

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from lukexmartin’s photostreamn on flickr Creative Commons.

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