Seoul tries to tame worries over Japan’s defense laws

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Seoul tries to tame worries over Japan’s defense laws

South Korean National Defense Minister Han Min-koo said on Monday that Seoul is capable of rejecting a U.S. request for the Japanese military to enter the Korean Peninsula in the event of war with North Korea, brushing off concerns that Tokyo will gain leverage over the country as a consequence of the recent passage of a set of security bills.

Responding to a question raised by Lee Choon-suk, a member of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), during a parliamentary audit held at the Ministry of National Defense, Han said that Tokyo must earn prior consent from Seoul before practicing any form of collective self-defense within Korea’s borders.

“Wartime operational control [Opcon] is carried out under the guidance of the presidents from South Korea and the United States,” Han said, adding that Japan’s armed forces cannot impact events in the country unless South Korea’s president grants authorization.

Korea handed over wartime command of its troops to the United States during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Han’s remarks echoed those by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said on Saturday that any Japanese military action concerning South Korean security or its national interests was contingent on the country’s consent or official request.

On Saturday, Tokyo passed 11 bills - one concerning international peacekeeping and 10 others related to collective self-defense measures - which for the first time since the end of World War II offer legal grounds for Japan to defend allies under attack overseas.

One of those bills, which translates as the military attack act, has been subject to particular criticism, as it fails to stipulate prior consent from Seoul.

Tokyo has yet to clarify the law’s wording.

During talks with his South Korean counterpart earlier this year, Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani vowed that Japan’s armed forces would not be dispatched to South Korea without permission from Seoul.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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