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Uniting security in East Asia

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Dec 02,2009
China and Japan agreed to hold their first-ever joint military training exercise as early as next year. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, during a visit to Tokyo last week, issued a joint statement with his Japanese counterpart, Toshimi Kitazawa, about the countries’ agreement to conduct search and rescue exercises at sea for the foreseeable future.

Although the longtime rivals have limited their nascent military partnership to disaster rescue, the fact that the countries are joining naval forces suggests a momentous turning point in their future relations.

Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party had also discussed military ties and cooperation with China, but stopped short in follow-up actions.

But talk of an alliance with Asia’s rising military and economic power gathered impetus after the opposition Democratic Party of Japan took control under Yukio Hatoyama, who advocates closer ties with East Asian neighbors and more distance from the United States.

The two defense ministers also agreed on a wide range of military exchanges, including visits by naval vessels and regular senior-level meetings. The extension of a Sino-Japanese partnership into the military field may add to the tension between Japan and the United States over their previously agreed-upon military realignment plan involving the relocation of U.S. marine forces in Okinawa.

Korea’s military ties with Japan and China remain at the peripheral level. Korean and Japanese forces conducted a joint rescue sea exercise in the past. But they failed to develop their joint military ventures to regular and systematic levels due to a spat over various history-related issues. Its ties with China remain even more rudimentary.

There is no need to view the Sino-Japanese military cooperation with suspicious eyes. Japan’s branching out is inevitably limited within the boundary of the Japan-U.S. security axis. What we should be concerned about is finding our role in the emerging military framework in East Asia. We, too, must reinforce our alliance with Japanese and Chinese armed forces and orchestrate tripartite cooperation.

In the long run, the East Asia region must envision a multinational security model that exists in Europe. Each country should work to strengthen bilateral and, later, tripartite ties to build up trust for the eventual investment in a regional multilateral framework for security cooperation.
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