November 21, 2013 12:11
It's been 12 days since super typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc in the Philippines. More than 5,600 people are now believed dead or missing, while property damage has been tallied at close to US$300 million. The survivors have resorted to sifting through heaps of trash to scavenge for anything to eat and are digging the ground to tap buried pipes for water.
The scale of the disaster is too large for the Philippines to handle on its own.
On Nov. 10, just two days after the disaster, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrote to the president of the Philippines promising "all possible support." The next day, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, who is the de facto government spokesman, announced that Tokyo is ready to deploy its army to help.
When the Philippines accepted the offer, Abe ordered the dispatch of around 1,000 troops on Nov. 13, and three Navy ships, 16 aircraft and 1,180 army medics and engineers headed to the Philippines between Sunday and Monday.
Japanese troops invaded the Philippines during World War II and Filipino guerrillas fought back. The two countries were enemies at war. But for Korea, the Philippines is an old ally, dispatching 7,420 troops to fight for during the 1950-53 Korean War who fought against Chinese troops. Some 112 Filipino soldiers died, while 299 were injured and 57 are missing. Korea had an obligation to offer help as quickly as possible.
But the Korean Defense Ministry waited until Monday to say it was "considering" the dispatch of a handful of medics and engineers to the Philippines if Manila requested it. There are no signs that the Foreign Ministry even discussed the dispatch of troops with Manila directly.
Saenuri Party lawmaker Hwang Woo-yea on Wednesday said the National Assembly must "swiftly" approve the request if the Philippines asks for the dispatch of Korean soldiers. But by the time this process is completed, the emergency in the Philippines could have passed the worst stage.
Korea's response has been so slow because of existing regulations that require National Assembly authorization to send soldiers abroad. In the U.S., Germany and France, the dispatch of troops to assist in relief efforts abroad can receive ex-post-facto parliamentary approval. Japan established laws in 1992 to allow troops to be dispatched abroad without the authorization of lawmakers when it involves disaster relief. Korea too needs to make necessary changes to allow the swift dispatch of soldiers to assist in aid efforts abroad.
The greatest problem between Korea and Japan is Tokyo's attempts to assert its right to so-called collective self-defense, whereby fighting troops can be deployed abroad if an ally is in some way under attack. The only countries opposed to the move are Korea and China. Australia, EU, the U.S. and even ASEAN, which were attacked by Japanese soldiers during World War II, have voiced their support for Japan.
This support comes from past efforts by Japanese prime ministers who visited each ASEAN member nation and offered close support in times of trouble. Korea's own efforts by contrast have been pathetic.
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