Seoul being isolated as Japan fortifies military

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Seoul being isolated as Japan fortifies military


The international community is getting behind Japan’s military buildup and its right to so-called collective self-defense, leaving Seoul in an isolated position still nursing the wounds of colonial rule in the not-so-distant past.

The United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and now the European Union have all expressed support for Japan’s move to reclaim its right to collective self-defense, which means coming to the military aid of an ally who is attacked.

President Barack Obama’s top security adviser also said that the U.S. supports the creation of Japan’s first National Security Council.

In a speech at Georgetown University Wednesday, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that the so-called pivot, or rebalance, toward the Asia-Pacific region remains a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

To balance support for Japan’s remilitarization, Rice talked about Korea, praising the “alliance’s military capabilities to ensure that our combined forces can deter and fully answer North Korea’s provocations.”

Obama is slated to visit the Asia region next April to make up for a canceled trip in October due to the government shutdown in Washington. Whether Seoul is a stop on the trip has not been confirmed.

A high-level U.S. defense official told reporters in Washington Monday that the United States “welcomes” Japan’s gaining of the right to collective self-defense, adding it is the inherent right of an independent nation.

The official also said the United States is aware of Korea’s concerns but that Japan’s stronger military posture will bolster the deterrent against North Korea and other regional threats faced by Washington, Tokyo and Seoul.

Both Seoul and Beijing are worried about a remilitarized Japan that has not repented for its past wartime aggressions and the effects that will have on the region. Japan is engaged in territorial disputes with both China in the South China and East China seas and Korea in the East Sea.

A joint statement following a summit with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday indicated that the EU was generally supportive of Tokyo’s collective self-defense right.

“The EU welcomed the prospect of Japan contributing more proactively to regional and global peace and security,” said the statement.

President Park Geun-hye spoke with Rompuy in a Nov. 8 summit in Brussels, raising Seoul’s concern over a rearmed Japan, but the discussion did not appear to have swayed the EU. Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told lawmakers at the National Assembly yesterday, “We are aggressively explaining our position to the United States and other allies.” That position is that Korea is opposed to “Japan strengthening its defense capacity through gaining the right to self-defense when it does not show repentance for its past,” Yun said.

But because of the close alliance between the United States and Korea, Seoul is not in a strong position to protest.

“The U.S. supports Japan’s right to collective self-defense to normalize the U.S.-Japan alliance through improving the situation where Japan does not have rights to belligerency,” a foreign affairs official said. “Rather than estranging the Korea-U.S. alliance, it appears the U.S. wants to strengthen cooperation between Korea, U.S. and Japan in addition to the already strong Korea-U.S. alliance.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council, which is expected to serve as a control tower for Japan’s foreign and national security policies. The lower house of the Japanese Diet passed a bill approving the creation of an NSC earlier this month, which is pending approval in the upper house. Soon after, Beijing also announced it is creating its version of the NSC to coordinate its military and security.

Japan adopted its defense-only policy following World War II, and Article 9 of its Constitution, written by the U.S., states, “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” It goes on to say Japan will never maintain land, sea and air forces and that “the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

The Abe government has actively pursued regaining the right to collective self-defense, either through amending or reinterpreting the Constitution.

This would enable it to expand its military budget and not only bolster its defenses but attack other countries or intervene in military conflicts.

On Oct. 3, as Secretary of State John Kerry visited Tokyo, the U.S. and Japan amended guidelines of their defense cooperation treaty for the first time since 1997, and Kerry expressed strong support for Japan’s right to collective self-defense.

Cho Tai-young, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday in a briefing, “A high-level Japanese security official conveyed to us regarding the collective self-defense issue that without the permission of Korea, its self-defense forces will not be able to operate in the Korean Peninsula.” He added, “In order to ease our doubts and anxiety, our government will continue to closely consult with the related nation [Japan] regarding its collective self-defense rights so that it can proceed with transparency.”



BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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