Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and his Japanese counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa plan to meet in Seoul next Monday and discuss the sharing of military information and supplies. The Defense Ministry says the two countries plan to sign agreements within this year in those two areas, which would mark the first-ever military pact signed by Seoul and Tokyo.
South Korea has signed agreements with eight countries including the U.S., Thailand and Turkey over the sharing of military supplies and services in times of emergency, and pacts or memorandums of understanding with 21 countries over the sharing of military information. These are the most basic areas of military cooperation.
But the plan is stirring up considerable controversy because it involves Japan. Considering Japanese atrocities during the colonization of Korea and Tokyo's ongoing territorial claim to the Dokdo Islets, questions over the necessity of such a pact are justified. With Northeast Asia polarized between a strengthening alliance between the U.S., South Korea and Japan versus a bolstered alliance between China and North Korea, stronger military ties between Seoul and Tokyo could cause the status quo to become permanent. And China's position must be considered. China is South Korea's largest trading partner and a key player along with the U.S. when it comes to peace on the Korean Peninsula and the prospect of reunification. It is not in South Korea's best interests to be pushed to the forefront of the conflicting alliances in the region.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said early last month that Seoul and Tokyo must discuss the prospect of allowing Japanese troops into South Korea to evacuate Japanese residents in the event of an emergency on the peninsula, while Japan's Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said in a New Year's interview that he is seeking to form a security alliance with South Korea. The U.S. is also keenly interested in bolstered military ties between South Korea and Japan. Both Washington and Tokyo cite the North Korean threat as the main reason, but an underlying aim is to keep China in check.
North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs are only adding support for such calls. The North's "Juche" ideology of self-reliance is actually giving foreign powers a greater excuse to exercise their influence over matters on the Korean Peninsula. That is why the regime is detrimental to Korean autonomy.
The South Korean government must set clear goals and draw clear lines about what can and cannot be done in terms of military cooperation with Japan. It needs to make sure that such a pact will not stoke unnecessary misunderstanding and conflict at home and abroad. And it needs to hold frank talks with Washington about the strategic goals and realistic limitations of such a pact.