Choo Mi-ae, leader of the ruling Democratic Party, speaks during a press conference at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Friday. Photo by Yonhap
NEW YORK (UPI) -- While circling the sky near the inter-Korean border last week, U.S. President Donald Trump posed a question that later took the leader of South Korea's ruling party by surprise.
According to Choo Mi-ae of the Democratic Party, Trump was on his Marine One helicopter to the heavily fortified demilitarized zone when he turned to White House chief economic director Gary Cohn and said: "I just saw something amazing. There are so many factories. Can't they be built in the U.S.?"
The trip to the DMZ was later canceled due to fog and Trump had to turn back to Seoul to continue his two-day state visit. The trip was watched closely because Trump had threatened to use military options against North Korea and engaged in a war of words with the regime over its nuclear and missile programs.
"I think President Trump understood, while he was in the air for 30 minutes, that 25 million people were living in the area below him and that they would be wiped out in the event of war," Choo said in a meeting with reporters in New York. "But I was so surprised when Director Cohn told me this story. Wasn't [Trump] essentially saying we should build our auto parts factories in the U.S., too?"
Trump's foreign dealings are often marked by a push to secure more business deals, which he says will create jobs for the American people.
Choo and Cohn met in Washington Tuesday shortly after the politician arrived in the United States for a six-day visit.
Of her meetings with government officials in Washington, Choo said she sensed a shift in U.S. policy toward engaging more with the Pyongyang regime.
"When the U.S. talked about all options being on the table, in the past, the emphasis seemed to be more on military options," she said. "But now, I felt that the emphasis was moving toward the possibility for talks."
Some in the U.S. administration suggested South Korea was being too cautious to reach out to the North even under the new liberal government of President Moon Jae-in, Choo said.
"Whether it's between the North and the U.S. or between South and North, we must have talks and exchanges in whatever form so as to lower tensions and stop [the North] from doing more [nuclear and missile] tests," she said.