Trusting Tokyo too much

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Trusting Tokyo too much

Seoul and Washington had serious discussions over Tokyo’s plan to lift the self-imposed ban on the right to collective self-defense. Daniel Russel, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, visited Korea on Sept. 5 as a part of his first Asia tour since his appointment. South Korean officials expressed anxiety about Japan revising defense cooperation guidelines with the United States to allow it to carry out attacks to aid its ally in times of crisis.

Reportedly, Russel coolly responded that Japan, a nation with a democratic history of more than 60 years, has the ability to contain itself. Korea’s growing concerns about Japan’s military aspirations - as one of the biggest victims of its past military excesses - did not sit well with the U.S. diplomat, who has a long service history in Japan and a Japanese wife to boot. Russel indicated his support for Japan’s move to restore its right to self-defense by saying it was good that Japan wants to reinforce its power to better contribute to regional security.

Collective self-defense - the use of force to defend an ally under an armed attack mandated by the United Nations Charter - has become a pivotal instrument in U.S. and Japan’s common front to contain the rising might of China. Japan appears to be accelerating steps to rebuild a full-fledged military. But in fact, that was an American idea in the first place. The first Armitage Report issued in 2000 by a study group under the leadership of former Department of Defense official Richard Armitage suggested that the U.S. alliance with Japan be elevated to the status of relations with the United Kingdom. The report recommended Tokyo lift its prohibition against collective self-defense, which was a constraint on alliance cooperation. It also proposed broadening the scope of U.S.-Japan military defense cooperation and recommended America’s support for Japan’s permanent membership to the UN Security Council.

It’s ironic that a country that defeated Japan in World War II and kept troops on Japanese soil since then is advising it to take up military weapons again. The 16-member Armitage Report group was comprised of experts in the Asia-Pacific region from the Defense Department and National Security Council of past administrations. Many of them were recruited by former U.S. President George W. Bush to serve on the foreign affairs front. Armitage himself became deputy secretary of state, James Kelly was named assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and Michael Green was Bush’s special assistant for Asian affairs on the National Security Council.

A RAND report in June 2001 went further, recommending Japan revise its post-war constitution to expand its defense frontier beyond the homeland. As George W. Bush’s deputy secretary of state, Armitage bluntly told Japan to “pull its head out of the sand and make sure the Rising Sun flag was visible in Afghanistan.” Under such marching orders, former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi bypassed the pacifist constitution to allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to go beyond a defense posture and support the United States in its “war on terrorism” for the first time since World War II. Japan sent a fleet of 24 vessels to the Indian Ocean, supplying half of the fuel and logistics for the U.S.-led coalition in the war against Afghanistan, according to “Client State: Japan in the American Embrace” by Australian academic Gavan McCormack.

It is not just Koreans and Chinese who bear bitter memories of Japan’s imperialism and militarism: Most Japanese are opposed to their country’s rearmament. Nonetheless, we can expect Tokyo to take little time or trouble to ease the concerns and suspicions of its neighbors if it wants to institutionalize its collective self-defense right for benign intentions. At the very lease it should issue a sincere apology for its past aggressions and invasions.

An apology, of course, is barely enough. I once wrangled over the issue with a Japanese diplomat. He claimed a former prime minister had apologized for the misdeeds of the past. I disagreed. For one thing, I believe such an apology must come in a form acceptable to and accepted by the victim or victims. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel laid a wreath at the site of the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should bow in a show of repentance to Korean and Chinese colonization and war victims. The Japanese diplomat didn’t argue back. Assistant Deputy Minister Lee Kyung-soo at the Office of Foreign Affairs also told Russel during his visit that Koreans need to see one meaningful gesture from Japan before accepting Japan’s new military steps.

If the United States unilaterally pushes ahead with a stronger alliance with Japan, the multilateral security framework could be shaken. Northeast Asia will be pushed into an arms race if U.S.-led maritime forces clash with China-led continental forces to create a global ideological conflict. Stuck in the middle, Korea would lose the most. President Park Geun-hye’s trust-building process to establish a lasting peace and cooperation framework should be perceived as the best option to solve the Asian paradox of economically inter-dependent nations that are geopolitical rivals.

She proposes a multilateral peace front among South Korea, China, Japan as well as the United States, Russia and North Korea. The United States and Japan must respect endeavors from other nations to ward off another ideological conflict. They must remember how the Helsinki Accords helped establish peace and co-prosperity in Europe.

A multilateral cooperative framework led by the United States and China is more desirable than a confrontational bilateral alliance in today’s globalized world. Global powers must exercise sense to build a peaceful security alliance in East Asia.

*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY Lee Ha-kyung
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