Regret for the past is the first stepThe government has expressed its official position on Japan’s claim to collective self-defense. Kim Jang-soo, the national security chief, delivered it to the U.S. government in a visit to Washington last week. “When it relates to Korea’s sovereignty, Korea’s views must be reflected,” Kim said.
His remarks recognize the reality that our government finds it difficult to oppose Japan exercising its collective self-defense rights in the larger framework of U.S.-led security in East Asia. But, given Tokyo’s lack of sincere regret for its aggression-ridden past, we are still seriously concerned.
Collective self-defense refers to the right to retaliate against an enemy when it attacks your allies. Japan has so far reserved its right because of its pacifist Constitution. But it has become a hot political issue in East Asia after Washington endorsed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to exercise the right through a reinterpretation of the Constitution or a constitutional revision in an effort to free Japan from the shackles of its post-war regulations.
Japan says it needs to acquire the right to effectively cope with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and China’s increasing military power. But there’s no question that Tokyo is eager to beef up its militarization so it can again be a “normal state,” capable of waging war. Due to its budget pressures, Washington also hopes a more active Japan can help keep China in check. Even the U.K. and Australia have openly supported Abe’s call for a bigger military role, calling it “proactive pacifism.”
It is difficult for us to resent the idea of Japan exercising the right, which a sovereign nation is entitled to as stipulated in the UN Charter. However, we cannot but be sensitive to the danger the Korean Peninsula faces as the most likely location Japan would exercise of the right if South Korea were to be attacked by the North. That’s why Kim insisted that our position be fully reflected when Washington and Tokyo work out a revision of the guidelines on U.S.-Japan defense cooperation. We cannot allow Japan to intervene in any emergency on the peninsula.
A bigger problem is that Japan is pursuing the right to collective self-defense without a sincere apology or remorse for its militarist past. As victims of Japan, Seoul and Beijing must be worried about Japan’s moves, which hint at the possibility of a massive rearmament and could accelerate an arms race in the region.
Washington must unequivocally urge Tokyo to apologize for its past. Only when America and Japan make such efforts can we approve of Tokyo’s exercise of that right.