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S. Korea’s anti-Japan sentiment an obstacle to three-way security pact

Publication Date : 02-06-2014


Strained relations between Japan and South Korea, which have shown no signs of improvement, cast a dark shadow over a tripartite agreement with the United States to share information on defense against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

Us Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday welcomed his Japanese and South Korean counterparts Itsunori Onodera and Kim Kwan Jin in the room at a hotel in Singapore, where the Asia Security Summit was held.

Immediately upon their arrival, Hagel urged Onodera and Kim to shake hands with each other, according to sources.

Hagel started the meeting stressing the significance of relations among the three countries, but once the three got down to the issues, tensions between Tokyo and Seoul stood out in stark relief.

Hagel stressed at the meeting that military and political issues must be considered separately. Kim replied that he understood, but the history between Japan and South Korea, compounded by the feelings of the South Korean public, made it difficult.

Hagel proposed talks on sharing information on missile defense that would lead to an expanded security partnership among Japan, the United States and South Korea.

However, Kim said that due consideration must be paid to public sentiment toward Japan in his country while showing an understanding of the need for defense cooperation among the three sides, the observers said.

In recent years, Washington has been strongly urging Tokyo and Seoul to enhance joint missile defense among the three countries.

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice directly proposed the expansion of tripartite cooperation in missile defense to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when she visited Japan with Us President Barack Obama in late April. “That’s a good idea,” Abe was quoted as replying.

North Korea has already developed a ballistic missile that can reach the US mainland, making it a real security threat. However, Japan and South Korea have been separately entering cooperative relations in the field with the US. A senior official of the US Defense Department expressed high hopes for a partnership among the three countries. He said missile defense operations will become more efficient if they are consolidated.

Tripartite cooperation in missile defense holds benefits for Japan. If Japan can obtain information on a North Korean missile launch more quickly from a South Korean Aegis destroyer, it will enable a more accurate prediction of where it will land.

When Pyongyang test-launched a ballistic missile it said was a rocket carrying a satellite in April 2012, Aegis ships of the Maritime Self-Defense Force failed to detect the launch because it was fired from around Tonchang-ri in the western region of North Korea, a geographically distant location, and disintegrated in the air shortly afterward.

However, a South Korean Aegis ship in the Yellow Sea and near the launch site succeeded in tracking the missile.

“The difference of a few seconds can determine whether it can be intercepted,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.

This means progress in information-sharing with South Korea will improve the security of Japan.

However, historical issues are the biggest obstacle preventing enhanced between Tokyo and Seoul. The two sides were set to sign the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in December last year, but the signing was postponed due to strong opposition by the South Korean public.

At the Singapore meeting, Onodera proposed to Kim the restart of talks on GSOMIA. But the South Korean defense minister referred only to the significance of information-sharing.

“If political conditions are not yet right in both countries, a dialogue must be held to make them so,” Onodera told the press after the tripartite meeting.

However, the restoration of bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea seems to be facing a bumpy road ahead.

Trilateral relations among Japan, the United States and South Korea are likely to be affected up to a point by Wednesday’s agreement made between Tokyo and Pyongyang during their talks in Stockholm.

“The message we are always sending to North Korea is that we must

completely settle the abduction as well as nuclear and missile issues,”Onodera was quoted as saying to his US and South Korean counterparts in their talks Saturday in Singapore. “Ourstance remains unchanged.”

Onodera briefed Hagel and Kim on the Japan-North Korea accord, under which Pyongyang will open full investigations into the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by its agents and suspected abductees while Japan will ift some of its unilateral sanctions against North Korea.

The accord, however, will not change Japan’s stance, which gives prime importance to halting North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs, Onodera said. He added that the sanctions to be lifted are limited to those Japan has imposed on its own, not those administered based on United Nations Security Council resolutions.

According to the Defense Ministry, both Hagel and Kim showed understanding toward Japan’s position.

Some in the United States and South Korea, however, are alarmed by the prospect of Japan making concessions to North Korea if any progress is made in working to settle abduction issues.
The US government has adopted the basic policy of not holding talks with North Korea or easing sanctions against it unless Pyongyang takes tangible actions toward denuclearisation.

In a related move on Thursday, the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee passed legislation to strengthen sanctions against North Korea to isolate the reclusive state further.

A high-ranking US administration official has voiced concerns about the go-it-alone approach Japan could take. Also, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that communications between Tokyo and Pyongyang will affect whether the three nations will be able to expand the scope of information-sharing among them.


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