President-elect Trump pledged to defend the long-time US ally in a phone call yesterday despite threats throughout his campaign to withdraw support for Seoul.
The Blue House – South Korea’s equivalent of the White House – released a statement saying Mr Trump told President Park Geun-hye he would be “steadfast and strong with respect to working with you to protect against the instability in North Korea”.
The ten-minute call was made at around 8pm New York time and included an invitation for Mr Trump to visit South Korea.
His comments gave the world its first clues as to what Mr Trump’s foreign policy on the Pyongyang tyrant might look like.
Critics have accused the surprise winner of Tuesday’s vote of being dangerous, unpredictable and unfit to be commander-in-chief of the US armed forces.
But President Park Geun-hye is keen to keep Washington onside as North Korea continues with a programme of nuclear armament.
During the call, the South Korean leader congratulated Mr Trump on his election and asked him to join in the effort to change North’s leadership.
His pledge to back the Seoul government followed a day after North Korea claimed to be marking carrying out another missile launch to coincide with election day.
Dealing with the nuclear pariah will be near the top of Mr Trump’s defence and foreign policy to-do list.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said after the vote was announced that he believed the Republican firebrand would maintain current US policy of pressuring the North over its nuclear and missile tests.
Bizarrely, North Korean state media praised Mr Trump, back in June, saying he was a “wise politician”.
Observers warn that he is unpredictable and could push a region that is already on a knife edge into full blown conflict.
Mr Trump has previously signalled that he might ease pressure on Pyongyang, giving the communist state wiggle room to intimidate its neighbours and plunge east Asia into a fresh conflict.
Speaking at a rally earlier this year, the New Yorker said war between North Korea and Japan would be a “terrible thing but if they do, they do…good luck, enjoy yourself, folks”.
His reluctance to intervene on the side of America’s historic allies could have wide-ranging implications for the post-WW2 world order.
There are about 28,500 US troops based in South Korea in combined defence against North Korea.
Trump had said during the election campaign he would be willing to withdraw US military stationed in South Korea unless Seoul paid a greater share of the cost of the deployment.