Tokyo rejects Seoul’s sovereignty over North

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Tokyo rejects Seoul’s sovereignty over North

A top Japanese defense official rejected South Korea’s stance that North Korea is also its sovereign territory and that Tokyo would need Seoul’s consent to ever send troops to the northern parts of the Korean Peninsula.

Gen Nakatani, Japan’s defense minister, made the remark during a meeting with a group of Japanese reporters in Seoul on Tuesday following South Korea-Japan defense ministerial talks at Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense earlier in the day.

Asked by a reporter if South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo had maintained during the talks that North Korea is also the South’s territory, Nakatani said, “South Korea provided an explanation that that is its position.”

He continued: “It is my understanding that South Korea has effective control over the area south of the truce line.”

Article 3 of the South Korean Constitution states that the territory of the Republic of Korea “shall consist of the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands.”

Based on the constitution, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense has maintained a position that Japan needs to obtain the South Korean government’s permission to deploy its troops anywhere on the Korean Peninsula. Japan recently revised its security laws to enable its Self-Defense Forces to participate in overseas missions, particularly if an ally such as the United States is attacked.

During the defense ministers’ talks on Tuesday, Han stressed that North Korea is legally the South’s territory under the constitution and that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces must obtain Seoul’s consent to enter the North in times of emergency, a senior Defense Ministry official said.

Nakatani, however, rejected the stance, saying, “Seoul, Washington and Tokyo must cooperate on this matter,” according to the official.

Following the talks, the two ministers issued a joint press statement.

“The Japanese Self-Defense Forces, when they operate within the territory of a third country, must obtain the concerned country’s consent under international laws,” the statement said.

It was the first time that a joint press statement was issued after Korea-Japan ministerial talks.

“A third country, in this statement, means Korea,” a ministry official said. “Japan accepted our demand that it must ask for our consent if it wants to send Self-Defense Forces to the Korean Peninsula.”

Nakatani effectively reversed that understanding only hours after the ministerial talks.

“It’s not the first time that Japan backstabbed us,” a Seoul official said. “Before arranging the ministerial talks, the Defense Ministry made clear that the meeting couldn’t take place without resolving the history issue. And yet, Japanese lawmakers made a surprise visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on the morning of the talks. We still went ahead with the meeting, but Japan backstabbed us again.”

The fracas also fueled criticism of the diplomatic skills of Seoul’s Defense Ministry. Last week, Defense Minister Han was rebuffed by his U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, after making an appeal for technology transfers for a fighter jet.

The rejection came while Han was accompanying President Park Geun-hye on a trip to Washington. The media and some politicians said Park’s presidential diplomacy with the country’s main ally was undercut as a result.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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