South Korea will not oppose Japan's deployment of Aegis destroyers to waters near the West Sea, a high-ranking Cheong Wa Dae official said on Sunday. He said the government believes guaranteeing navigational freedom on the high seas near the West Sea coincides with Seoul's security interests.
Tokyo raised some eyebrows here with plans to deploy the destroyers with the ostensible aim of detecting North Korean missile movements.
South Korea appears to have decided that the deployment could usefully counter any attempts by China to control those waters in an emergency on the Korean Peninsula and would guarantee better access for the South Korean and U.S. navies. "U.S. naval vessels are the most likely foreign ships to enter the West Sea in an emergency," the Cheong Wa Dae official said. China tends to react sensitively if any foreign warship enters those waters because it considers them a kind of gateway.
Instability in North Korea since the death of former leader Kim Jong-il has led to greater awareness here of the need to bolster military cooperation with the U.S. and Japan.
Washington has been urging Seoul for years to bolster military ties with Tokyo, and Seoul expects closer military ties with Japan would help with intelligence gathering about the North. "Japan has twice as many Aegis destroyers as we do," the Cheong Wa Dae official said. "The intelligence data they gather from the West Sea could be of great use."
South Korea is already seeking a military information sharing agreement with Japan despite protests from opposition lawmakers. The two sides have almost completed talks on the pact. "We plan to wrap up the talks with Japan on a military cooperation before the end of the current administration," a government official said. "We're simply taking a break due to the opposition protests but intend to sign them soon."
Seoul has similar agreements with around 20 countries, including the U.S. and Russia. It also has logistics support pacts with around 10 countries, including the U.S. and New Zealand, so officials here say a deal with Japan should not be viewed differently.
Seoul says the moves do not signify a proper trilateral military alliance with the U.S. and Japan, which would cause public ire given anti-Japanese sentiment here. The government intends to take a two-track approach in dealing with Japan, separating historical issues like Tokyo's whitewashing of colonial atrocities from North Korea-related matters.