South Korea's Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin was scheduled to visit Tokyo at the end of this month to sign accords on military cooperation with Japan, but this trip has been postponed. The accords would have been the first of their kind since Japan's colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula ended in 1945. Was the visit postponed in consideration of public sentiment? What will be the military pact's impact in the region once signed? Global Times (GT
) reporter Li Ying talked to Sheila A. Smith (Smith
), Senior Fellow for Japan Studies at Council on Foreign Relations based in Washington, Narushige Michishita (Michishita
), director of Security and International Studies Program at National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, and Lü Chao (Lü
), director of the North and South Korea Research Center at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, on these issues.
GT: Unlike Japanese media, the South Korean papers have toned down the coverage of closer military ties between the two countries. Could the two build mutual trust?
Michishita: South Korea has two things to worry about. One is history. There are people in South Korea who still feel negatively about cooperating with Japan on military issues, given Japan's invasion and colonization of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
Another is the reaction from China. Some Chinese observers regard Japanese-Korean defense cooperation as detrimental to Chinese national interests, and are against it. South Koreans try to downplay the significance of the cooperation in order to minimize the negative reaction from China.
Smith: The two nations have a complex relationship. They have deep economic and cultural ties, but they have difficulties as well.
Developing security cooperation will take time, and will need to consider public sentiments in both Japan and South Korea.
South Koreans understandably have a deep sensitivity about the past. Yet the two nations today share common values and interests, and will likely proceed slowly and carefully in the direction of building regional cooperation.
GT: Do the rising tensions with North Korea leave Japan and South Korea no choice but start fleshing out security cooperation?
Michishita: I don't think tension is rising on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea seems to be playing the same brinkmanship diplomacy as in the past.
However, given the potential destabilization of the North Korean regime due to the shift of leadership, closer Japanese-South Korean defense cooperation is certainly welcome.
Smith: I believe the potential for instability on the Korean Peninsula is a core issue in Northeast Asian, and all countries will need to consider carefully how they will respond should North Korea use force or develop weapons that undermine the region's stability.
The development of nuclear weapons could fundamentally alter the strategic balance in the region, and the pursuit of ballistic missile capabilities to deliver weapons out of the region would also challenge the deterrence capabilities of the alliances.
It is the regional implications of North Korea's current nuclear and missile development trajectory that is the impulse for greater cooperation between Japan and South Korea.
Lü: I think North Korea is just an excuse for them to explain the motivation behind the military pact. It is the US that has been pushing for Japan and South Korea's military cooperation.
The White House has announced its pivot policy in the Asia-Pacific, and Japan and South Korea are its two major allies in the region. The US could coordinate easily if they can work together.
GT: Do you think the Japanese-South Korean military pacts, if signed, will be a big step toward a trilateral military cooperation framework involving South Korea, the US and Japan?
Michishita: Japan and South Korea are talking about signing two agreements, one on intelligence cooperation and the other on logistical cooperation.
Intelligence cooperation is important given the recent developments in North Korea. Logistical cooperation will make it easy for the two countries to work more closely in international peace cooperation or disaster relief missions.
However, neither of them is enough to be called a "military pact."
Smith: The US, Japan and South Korea have worked together for some time on regional security issues. None is more important, of course, than North Korea's nuclear and missile proliferation.
All three allies have similar concerns about what this does to strategic balance in the region, and Japan and South Korea have more immediate concerns given their proximity to Pyongyang.
This new information sharing agreement will allow Seoul and Tokyo to better understand the assessment and policy response of each country, should an incident or provocation occur.
GT: Some analyst said that a defense pact between Japan and South Korea would alarm China, North Korea and Russia and lead to new tension in the region. How do you see this?
Michishita: Even the Chinese protestors understand why Japan and South Korea are concerned about the future of North Korea. Closer Japanese- South Korean defense cooperation will not result in confrontation between Japan and South Korea on one side and China and Russia on the other.
Smith: Japan and South Korea do not have a defense pact in the sense of an alliance treaty. Rather, they are working out the mechanisms for cooperation should a crisis develop.
Given the inability of other nations, both individually and collectively via the UN and the Six-Party Talks, to persuade North Korea to abandon its pursuit of proliferation, greater cooperation may emerge between all three countries, the US, South Korea and Japan.
North Korea is, in fact, diminishing the security of its neighbors. If it cannot be persuaded diplomatically to stop, then those neighbors will take action to ensure their defense is adequate.
Lü: The security interaction between Japan and South Korea would actually break the military balance and bring more uncertainty to the region. China and Russia would of course keep a close watch over the process.
It is also possible that North Korea, which could feel threatened by the move, will react in a provocative way.