[Viewpoint] System to determine our own future

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[Viewpoint] System to determine our own future

“After reunification, there is a possibility that Korea becomes very hostile towards Japan. One of the biggest threats to the security of Japan is the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.” This is not the opinion of an extreme rightist or a conservative.

Not so long ago, former editor-in-chief of the Asahi Shimbun and well-known pro-Korean journalist Yoichi Funabashi spoke his mind. A unified Korea may target Japan under the banner of nationalism, and the Korean Peninsula may become influenced by China and become hostile toward Japan. A report by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Frontier of Peace Panel contains similar views, and the so-called “Korean threat” is widely spread regardless of political tendencies.

The breakdown of the Korea-Japan information protection pact is likely to fan this view. Some limit the criticism to procedural problems associated with close-door negotiations, but we also need to pay attention to the fact that there still is a national rejection against the military pact between the two countries. The message is clear: Without making progress on Dokdo and historical disputes, military cooperation in a true sense is not possible.

Moreover, Japan’s series of moves, including its security objective in the Atomic Energy Basic Act and hoping to have the right of collective self-defense to enable attacks on other countries, will only jeopardize cooperation between the two countries. Unlike the perspective of the Lee Myung-bak administration, most Korean citizens clearly feel negatively towards the military cooperation among Korea, Japan and the United States, which could possibly bring a new cold war in Northeast Asia.

It is a true dilemma. National sentiment would not allow general military cooperation, let alone a military alliance with Japan. However, maintaining hostile and confrontational attitudes is also not desirable. Being in an uncomfortable relationship with a close and important neighbor like Japan does not help Korea’s national interests at all.

How should we tackle this conundrum? The key is common sense and reason. Keio University professor Yoshihide Soeya claimed in his “middle power” strategy that Japan should accept the pacifist Constitution and Yoshida Doctrine as its fate. Tokyo should not try to revise the Constitution and make a Faustian bargain to change the situation to follow the illusion of rearmament or as a populist political tactic.

Japan must realize that such attempts amplify a sense of threat and hostility and brings a destructive arms race in the end. Japanese foreign policy should seek multilateral diplomacy and non-military security leadership while maintaining the basic frame of the pacifist Constitution.

At the same time, Korea also needs common sense and reason. The Korean government justified that it tried to sign the information protection pact hurriedly because it needed to share intelligence on North Korea. However, the standard tactic would be trying to improve inter-Korean relations.

In the current administration, escalated military tension with the North became a routine, and these tensions led to an aggravation of Korea-China relations. As a result, the Korea-U.S. alliance and Korea-U.S.-Japan military cooperation are emphasized more than ever. When inter-Korean relations improve and balanced diplomacy brings back Korea-China relations to normalcy, the confrontational tension will disappear naturally.

At the moment, Seoul and Tokyo should be more concerned with the geopolitical uncertainty in the age of the G-2 rather than the military threat of China and North Korea. The G-2 hegemony of the United States and China is no longer a hypothesis, but a reality, and strategic moves of the two powers would change the fate and history of Northeast Asia drastically. If one of these two countries initiates military conflict, it will be a catastrophe involving both South Korea and Japan.

On the other hand, it would be equally worrisome if the United States and China exchanged secret signs and established a solid diarchy. We cannot rule out the scenario that the status of neighboring countries would be determined by their dealings.

We have only one solution.

Before the G-2 system becomes solid, South Korea and Japan should cooperate constructively to create new regional order. We should prepare a Northeast Asian order so that we can decide our own future. We need to transcend bilateral alliances and create multilateral security cooperation systems militarily. Making an economic community by expanding and reinforcing a Korea-China-Japan free trade agreement would be a specific objective.

As we build trust in the process, we would be able to seek solutions for territorial and historical disputes. Creative ideas to find a new coordinate of the Korea-Japan relationship would be the key for the history of the next century. We don’t have much time.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a political science professor at Yonsei University.
By Moon Chung-in
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