July 12, 2019 13:40
Seoul on Thursday drew a line in the sand over a perceived U.S. attempt to rope Japanese troops into a potential armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
The Korean translation of this year's Strategic Digest out on Thursday said that the UN Command will continue to ensure the support and force flow "from" Japan in the event of an emergency.
South Koreans were quick to bridle at the suggestion that the old colonial power could once again send soldiers to the peninsula before the fallout of Japan's wartime atrocities has been fully settled.
But the Defense Ministry clarified that the original English text says the UNC "continues to ensure the support and force flow 'through' Japan that would be necessary in times of crisis."
The UNC is a notional peacekeeping operation that oversees the armistice and consists of the 18 countries who fought on South Korea's side during the 1950-53 Korean War. Japan was not one of them, and the ministry explained that the UNC's role is merely to liaise with Tokyo, which would provide rearguard support.
The UNC is helmed by the chief of the U.S. Forces Korea. "Japan did not participate in the Korean War and cannot operate as a provider of strategic assets," the ministry said. "If it is to serve as a member of the UNC, it must consult the [South Korean] Defense Ministry."
There are seven military bases in Japan that would serve as gateways for UN forces into South Korea in the event of an emergency.
But military insiders said it is unprecedented for Japan to be mentioned at all in the Strategic Digest, and that this reflects U.S. President Donald Trump's expectations that Japan will play a bigger role in enforcing U.S. interests in the region.
A military source said, "From the standpoint of the U.S.' Asia-Pacific strategy of containing China, it is true that the U.S. wants Japan's participation in an expanded role in the UNC."
But another military source said, "The U.S. knows better than to carelessly mention the possibility of Japanese troops entering the peninsula."
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