October 22, 2015 22:37
Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani refused to commit himself on whether Japan will need Seoul's approval before launching any military operations in North Korea. "There are some opinions that the scope of South Korea's effective control is below the truce line," Nakatani was quoted as saying.
That is as good as saying that Japan does not recognize South Korea's constitutional authority in North Korea and feels it would not need permission to deploy troops in the North. But his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo apparently raised no objections when the two met Tuesday.
The Defense Ministry did not mention Nakatani's comments in a briefing on their talks and the issue became public via Japanese news.
The issue of the Japanese forces operating in North Korea is not only a question of territorial sovereignty but of the scope of operations in case of North Korean invasion.
Nakatani's comments come after the rightwing government in Tokyo passed a set of controversial security laws that allow forces to be deployed overseas if an ally is in some way under threat. They may offer a hint of the unfettered role Japan envisages for itself in the region.
The Defense Ministry later confirmed Nakatani's comments but explained that they had come in a discussion of the need for negotiations between South Korea, Japan and the U.S. The Defense Ministry said both Seoul and Tokyo agreed to keep Nakatani's comments under wraps.
In that case, the Japanese Defense Ministry is at fault for breaking this promise, but that does not leave the Korean Defense Ministry off the hook.
The impression is that the ministry is once again trying to hide a prickly issue from the public. Japan apparently notified the ministry of its stance before the ministerial meeting, which means there would have been plenty of time to think about a measured response.
The same spirit of brushing embarrassing facts under the carpet prevailed in the latest setback for the next-generation fighter jet project, where defense officials concealed the fact that the U.S. government had never approved the transfer of four key technologies.
Realists point out that South Korea’s constitutional sovereignty over North Korea is a fiction since both Koreas are members of the United Nations. But the 1965 Korea-Japan normalization treaty between Seoul and Tokyo stipulates that Japan recognizes South Korea as the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula. Why could Han not point this out to Nakatani?
Security officials from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan meet in Tokyo on Thursday. The Defense Ministry must urgently do its homework on the question of Japanese troop deployment in the Korean Peninsula.
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