How Should Korea React to Regional Arms Race?

      September 16, 2011 13:26

      Chinese media report that Japan plans to build a 19,500-ton helicopter carrier next year. Japan already has two helicopter carriers, but the 22DDH has a deck that is 30 percent bigger than the existing vessels, which enables it to carry 14 helicopters compared to 11 on the existing ones.

      Since 2009, Japan has spent 39 billion yen (W562.2 billion) to develop a stealth fighter codenamed ATD-X, and this year it earmarked 15 billion yen (W216 billion) to develop drones and military robots.

      Just last month, the world watched nervously as China's first aircraft carrier went on its test voyage. By 2020, China apparently plans to build three aircraft carrier units, each capable of combat, training and protection missions. In January of this year, China tested its fifth-generation stealth fighter codenamed the J-20.

      China's drive to boost its arsenal has apparently prompted Japan to take similar steps. That Chinese media broke the story of the new Japanese helicopter carrier shows just how closely the two countries are monitoring each other’s weapons development.

      It was the Japanese media that first reported Russia's plans to deploy a state-of-the-art nuclear submarine at its Pacific Fleet, which covers the East Sea. A spokesman for Russia's Eastern Military District, which oversees Northeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean, said Tuesday that Russian and North Korean forces will hold joint naval and air force drills next year.

      The arms race between China and Japan will inevitably change the security landscape on the Korean peninsula. Russia's moves to bolster its naval power in Northeast Asia complicate the picture further. It is too early to say that China and Japan pose an immediate military threat. But South Korea must consider the worst-case military scenario involving its regional neighbors as it maps out its survival strategy.

      South Korea cannot simply jump on the bandwagon and join the regional arms race. China is the world's second-largest economy with a GDP of US$5.9 trillion as of last year, while Japan, the world's No. 3 economy, has a GDP of $5.5 trillion. That is more than five times the size of South Korea's, which stands at just over $1 trillion. Beijing's military spending is estimated to be more than three times Seoul's, while Japan's is double the amount. South Korea would go broke if it tried to keep up with its neighbors.

      South Korea's primary defense focus should be on deterring North Korea, and its mid to long-term strategy should be alert to China and Japan's growing might. The ever-changing political landscape in Northeast Asia requires the nation to strengthen its alliances and use its diplomatic skills to come up with stronger national defense strategies.

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