ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A huge question right now in Asia, especially longtime U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, is this. What does a Trump presidency mean for us? The uncertainty has a lot to do with what Trump said during his campaign about these alliances. NPR's Elise Hu reports.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What happens if you feel like you can't handle something?
ELISE HU, BYLINE: At Seoul's Kookmin University, an English language class discusses current events, and the election of Donald Trump is one event that's shaken these students up. Youjin Lee is one of them.
YOUJIN LEE: In Korean, (speaking Korean) means something happened that's unexpected.
HU: Like the unexpected result of America's election. It means major uncertainty for U.S. foreign policy. Trump during the campaign argued allies don't pay their fair share for the U.S. bases and troops stationed in their countries and said he could pull them out.
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DONALD TRUMP: We defend Japan. We defend Germany. We defend South Korea. We defend Saudi Arabia. We defend countries. They do not pay us what they should be paying us because we are providing tremendous service, and we're losing a fortune.
HU: South Korea and Japan have both paid billions over the years to support the bases within their borders. And with a rising China and a nuclear-armed North Korea, America has wanted to be there for security reasons. But Trump is calling that policy into question.
ROBERT KELLY: Trump has said some tough things about America's alliance relationships around the world.
HU: Robert Kelly teaches international relations at South Korea's Pusan University.
KELLY: On the other hand, Trump's also sort of wildly reversed himself, and so there's a lot of sort of uncertainty about what exactly he wants to do. I'll be honest and say I don't actually think he really knows himself. I don't think he really knows a great deal or cares a great deal about foreign affairs.
HU: Trump did speak by phone with both Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye this morning. In both calls, Trump said he would support the current security alliances with these Asian democracies. He told President Park, quote, "we are with you all the way."
But the cost-sharing agreement with Korea for the U.S. maintaining bases here is coming up for renegotiation next year. Korea paid $850 million for bases in 2014, but Trump foreign policy adviser Pete Hoekstra said this week maybe that's not enough.
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PETE HOEKSTRA: The threats that they face - if they're not willing to pay for it or they just go into it and say, we don't have to worry about it; the United States is going to pay for it - that is not a healthy relationship.
HU: So the upcoming negotiation could be a flashpoint. Beyond security, Trump's rhetoric has been toughest on trade, and for Japan and Korea, that matters. Robert Kelly...
KELLY: There's anxiety about what Trump means for trade relationships because he's really hammered on that. Asian exports to United States are important for economies out here.
HU: He says changes to trade agreements could hurt export-driven Asian economies and U.S. consumers.
KELLY: If he really does throw up tariff barriers, that will drive up the prices of Asian goods. That means Samsung televisions and Honda Civics and whatnot will be significantly more expensive.
HU: But just what a Trump administration will really do when it's in power is unknown not just to Americans.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What's the word?
HU: Back in the English class, Korean college student Yuseok Kang surveyed his friends for their reactions.
YUSEOK KANG: They all are worried about the side effects of his elections, and they are worried of what he's going to do next.
HU: That's what he says in English. In Korean, the trending term on social media here is (speaking Korean). It translates to mind collapse. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.