July 24, 2024

SEOUL, South Korea — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday joined South Korea’s foreign affairs minister in a conversation about business and trade that quickly veered into a discussion on global security, guest workers and former President Donald Trump.

On the second leg of a three-country tour of East Asia, Abbott’s goal was to bolster economic relationships and promote Texas as fertile ground for the region’s companies.

On his trip to Asia, Abbott will visit a region already influencing North Texas life

That topic was the appetizer before a deeper dive into political issues, including the immigration debate that could complicate Texas’ relations with some foreign countries.

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Over cups of chamomile tea, Foreign Affairs Minister Cho Tae-yul noted the tensions between his nation and North Korea, then asked Abbott how the outcome of November’s presidential election would affect politics in the region.

Abbott and Cho sat next to each other, pulled slightly away from a large, round conference table. Secretary of State Jane Nelson and others in the Texas delegation sat in front of them.

Gov. Greg Abbott leads delegation on 3-nation East Asia tour to promote Texas business

Abbott said he couldn’t speak for Trump or the federal government, but he predicted a Trump return to the White House would benefit South Korea by reducing tensions in East Asia.

In January, North Korea tested new cruise missiles for submarine launches. The country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, abandoned the pursuit of reconciliation with South Korea and ordered the constitution to be rewritten declaring the neighboring nation his country’s most hostile foreign adversary. Kim said he would use nuclear weapons against South Korea if provoked.

According to Politico, South Korean officials are pushing U.S. leaders for an early renewal of a cost-sharing deal that helps pay for 28,000 U.S. troops based in South Korea.

Trump, who as president held three cordial summits with North Korea’s leader, has questioned the cost of keeping troops in South Korea, saying the nation pays “almost nothing” for the protection.

Abbott said he expected Trump to make the right decisions.

“If he’s elected, he will be much more thoughtful in his approach,” Abbott said. “The one thing that we know is he will not tolerate these types of threats and will push back hard against them.”

“He [Trump] cares a lot about the future of Korea with regard to Korean national security, international security, as well as economic ties,” Abbott added. “And if I were you, I would be confident that under a Trump administration those ties would continue to strengthen.”

Abbott said being the world leader of artificial intelligence and space exploration would lead to better security and more influence on the world stage. He called it “peace through economic strength.”

Gov. Greg Abbott begins East Asia trip by opening Texas-Taiwan office in Taipei

“The winners of the AI race will be the winners of the world,” Abbott said. “That partnership between Korea and the other countries in this region will help determine the outcome. That’s why it was so important that we have this strong alliance, and together we develop these technologies in a responsible and effective way that outpaces our adversaries.”

Now a powerhouse in the tech arena, South Korea is ready to have a greater voice in world affairs, Cho said.

“We don’t have the bitter memory of colonization with countries, so we can contribute to promoting international peace and prosperity as an equal partner,” he said. “We are now committed to playing a larger and bigger role. Korea has come of age. We have to meet that level of expectation.”

After asking about the November presidential election, Cho got back to business, asking Abbott to support the Partner with Korea Act in Congress. The bill would create a non-immigrant visa category allowing up to 15,000 South Korean nationals a year to work in America or teach workers in specialty tech jobs. Cho called them professionals, saying the visa holders would have college degrees.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott attends a lunch in Seoul, South Korea sponsored by the Korea...
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott attends a lunch in Seoul, South Korea sponsored by the Korea International Trade Association. He’s shaking hands with Jin Sik Yoon, chairman of the KITA.(Gromer Jeffers Jr. / The Dallas Morning News)

The bill was introduced with Republican and Democratic support. Cho said the only Texan he knows supporting the proposal is U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.

He said much of the investment Korea makes in America is in Republican states.

“For the sake of your interests, I hope you will call congressmen to sponsor this bill,” Cho said to Abbott.

Abbott said the issue was not under his purview.

“I’m always going to be focused on Texas legislation as opposed to what is going on in Congress, but I’ll look into it,” Abbott said.

Like most Republicans, Abbott has taken a hard line on immigration and is focused on border security, including his multibillion-dollar Operation Lone Star. Before Abbott’s East Asia trip, former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk warned rhetoric about immigrants could hurt Texas’ ability to do business abroad, especially in countries sensitive to the immigration issue.

The Partner with Korea Act came up again when Abbott met with the Korea International Trade Association.

Jin Sik Yoon, the group’s chairman and CEO, urged Abbott and the Texas delegation of political and business leaders to support the proposal, which is languishing.

On his trip to Asia, Abbott will visit a region already influencing North Texas life

“It is crucial to recognize that the Partner with Korea Act is anything but immigration,” he said. “It rather aims to enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. manufacturing industry and foster a sound investment environment.”

Abbott and Korean leaders said they are pleased with the collaboration between South Korea and Texas.

Earlier this month, the Korea International Trade Association opened an office in Dallas, joining branches in New York and Washington, D.C.

Cho said Korea had more to offer Texas than well-known businesses like Samsung.

“Not only Samsung, but many Korean businesses have an interest in doing business with Texas,” he said.

A relationship with Texas, Abbott replied, would benefit South Korea.

“We want to make sure we do everything we can to protect our allies,” Abbott said. “One way to do that is through strong economic ties.”

Cho praised Abbott for his tenure as Texas governor.

“I know you have a future as a great politician,” he said.

Abbott’s East Asia trip, which began with two days in Taiwan, continues Tuesday in South Korea, where he’ll meet with business leaders and tour a Samsung facility. Later this week, Abbott will take his trade mission to Japan.

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