[EDITORIALS]Out of the mouth of RohIn the situation where the tension surrounding the Korean Peninsula is escalating because of the North Korean missile crisis, President Roh Moo-hyun sent a strong warning message ― to Japan.
He told marine police officers who were invited to the Blue House on Thursday, “It is important for us to be prepared with a defense capability that can ensure that Japan thinks, ‘Our damage will be bigger than our gains if we provoke a war.’” He also said, “Although Japan has superior military strength to ours, we have at least the defense capability to deter Japan from provoking a war.”
We understand that Mr. Roh made the remark as an expression of his patriotic determination to defend Korea’s exclusive economic zone in the East Sea even at the risk of a military confrontation with Japan. But we have to object to his inappropriate choice of vocabulary as a head of state. As the president, whose utmost responsibility is defending national sovereignty, it is only natural for him to proclaim his firm will to defend it. But inciting another country by using such words as “provocation,” “military capability” and “defense capability” is not wise.
In order to deter North Korea from test-firing a missile, we need cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan. President Roh’s remarks will not only sour the atmosphere of diplomatic cooperation with Japan, but could also inflame Japanese conservatives and accelerate the gradual emergence of right-wing nationalism there.
Japan aims to become an “ordinary country” by arming itself with political and military power equivalent to its economic strength. It has been building up its military capabilities whenever it finds an excuse in the situation in the Korean Peninsula. Taking the occasion of North Korea’s launching of a Taepodong-1 missile in 1998, Japan launched a military intelligence satellite and started to build a missile defense system in cooperation with the United States. It is not difficult to conclude that the party that is gaining the most from North Korea’s threat to launch an upgraded version of that missile is the Japanese right wing, which wants to rearm. Now South Korea is giving those forces a helping hand, as if both Koreas are determined to add fuel to Japan’s drive to become a military power.
Japan spends $52 billion on defense annually. It is already equipped with the second-strongest navy in the world after the United States. Japan’s move to build up itself as a military power will be a factor that threatens the security of Northeast Asia, because it will incite a confrontation with China. And now the North with its missile and the South with provocative remarks will spur Japan on to further efforts to rearm. That makes us very uneasy.
A nation’s leader has to see the forest instead of the trees. What is required is not a venting of personal spleen, but calculated and well-thought-out diplomatic remarks.