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Korea and Japan as allies? Nice idea. Good luck, though.

In the CSM, Clayton Jones asks, “Can Japan and South Korea ever be military partners, even allies?

Can Japan and South Korea ever be military partners, even allies?

Each nation is a democracy. They are already allies individually with the United States. Each trains with the American military separately in joint naval exercises.

Most of all they are close neighbors in the tough neighbor of Northeast Asia that includes North Korea, China, and Russia. The threat of North Korea someday launching a nuclear-tipped missile toward either country should have had the effect of drawing Japan and South Korea closer.

But as much as the United States wants the two countries to cozy up, history has long kept them apart.

I’d imagine South Korea and Japan cooperate more in the security sphere than anyone in a position to say will, at least on this side of the East Sea. In recent months, China has been making Korea—Japan cooperation a lot easier by acting like a thug, but domestic political considerations still make it difficult. For example, when news broke that Japan was sounding out Korea about the possibility of dispatching Japanese ships and aircraft to Korea to rescue Japanese nationals in the event of a war—not a completely unreasonable idea, mind you—even the conservative Chosun Ilbo felt the need to respond:

But for the South, it is difficult to accept the possibility of the Japanese military being dispatched to the Korean Peninsula as long as Tokyo continues to assert its territorial claim over the Dokdo Islets, not to mention living memories of Japan’s occupation and its denial of World War II atrocities. China views the South Korea-U.S.-Japan joint military exercises as a hostile move. For South Korea, the matter is extremely delicate and requires a cautious approach. Kan’s remarks were not only uncalled for but risk causing needless diplomatic friction.

Mind you, the Chosun was careful not to rule out the possibility completely, and one suspects that in their heart of hearts, the Chosun and a good many of its readers want to see greater security cooperation with Tokyo. To give you a better idea of what Japan’s up against, see Korea Times columnist Kim Tae-gyu, who wrote:

From the perspective of Koreans, however, the bottom line is not the right to get compensation. The thing is whether Japan genuinely regrets its past wrongdoings as it has said many times and whether it is ready not to commit such bad things in the future.

I have three benchmarks to check the deeply-ingrained mantra of the Japanese with regard to the above-mentioned question.

First, they are required to return all the Korean cultural properties, which they had forcefully taken, without any conditions. Second, they must sincerely apologize for mobilizing “comfort women,’’ or young women who were forced to serve as sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Third, they should no longer claim sovereignty over Dokdo, South Korea’s easternmost islets, citing some bizarre reasoning from international agreements.

They are not about money. They are not about legal contentions, either. They are the minimum that Japan should show to Korea in order for the former to convince the latter that the country is now 100 percent fine to be an ally with.

Otherwise, Korea will harbor suspicions about the real intentions of Japan, which are still seen as aggressive and belligerent in the eyes of many Koreans; and this gives us the rights to worry very seriously about something like Kan’s remarks on a troop dispatch.

Likewise, I’ve been citing Canadian occupation of Machias Seal Island and jackbooted Canuckistani oppression of its native puffin population as grounds for a US withdrawal from NATO. Sadly, Washington doesn’t appear to be listening. When the Canadians put Defense Scheme No. 1 into motion, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

One place I can very well see greater Korea—Japan security cooperation, and sooner rather than latter, is in theaters outside of Northeast Asia, especially naval cooperation against pirates and other threats to shipping lanes.

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  • http://wetcasements.wordpress.com wetcasements

    “They are already allies individually with the United States. Each trains with the American military separately in joint naval exercises.”

    This counts for a heck of a lot though. In a practical sense it’d be far more important for South Korea and Japan to freely exchange intel on North Korea and to a lesser extent China. In the event of a full-scale North Korean attack on the South the US will be doing most of the defense/retaliation management anyways re: air and guided missile strikes.

    Still, it seems like both countries would benefit from a political/cultural thaw. The ball is definitely in Japan’s court on this one, however. Apologizing for comfort women would be a good start.

    Interesting post.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Korea already occupies Takeshima island. Just ignore Japanese claims to the contrary. If they want it, they will have to pry it from Korea’s dead cold hands. Since that won’t happen any time soon, the two countries should just conduct business as normal as if there isn’t a territorial dispute.

    Dokdo/Takeshima isn’t worth anyone getting their panties in a bunch, at least IMHO.

  • seouldout

    As a start they could conduct ASW exercises – PRC enjoys a significant edge in subs. I don’t think we’ll ever see Japanese land forces training in Korea, but air and naval forces could and should work more closely together.

    Of course we know of ROK’s views on this, but the Japanese may themselves be wary of closer cooperation w/ Seoul. Even planning an exercise in the East Sea of Japan will be fraught with bickering. Who wants to work with a petulant pre-teen?

  • 8675309

    The ROK military and JSDF have been conducting various officer exchanges programs over the past decade or so. While the ROK and JSDF do not conduct any formal military exercises together, in reality, I agree that they are essentially allies-by-proxy — as Clayton Jones states in his CSM article simply due to their simultaneous relationship with the U.S.

    (I once worked with one of these ROK officers — a captain — who did an officer exchange with the JSDF. As this was essentially his first experience outside Korea ever, not surprisingly the only thing he could harp on upon returning to Korea from Japan was how shocked he was that the Japanese officers he worked with basically had their own version of events vis-a-vis the occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945 and other events — as did he. (Not surprising when you realize that both Koreans and Japanese are essentially the products of a tightly controlled government-centered educational system.)

    To mollify him, I told him to lighten up and give the Japanese a break, and that the more he traveled around the world, an the more people he met who aren’t Korean, the more likely he would be to encounter people who have a totally different version of events than his own. It was a hard sell, and I’m not sure he walked away feeling that pluralism was a good thing, but I can only hope his narrow mind was opened up to see the light somewhat.

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    I think Korea will be able to work with Japan only when it shows true remorse ala Germany.

  • aaronm

    I’d go one step further and say there should be an East Asian security community featuring Japan, the ROK, Australia, Indonesia, The Philippines and maybe even Taiwan. Each has common interests as major trading partners and democracies to form a bloc against Chinese regional hegemony.

  • Granfalloon

    “For South Korea, the matter is extremely delicate and requires a cautious approach.”

    Yeah, get used to reading this sentence ad nauseam for the next couple of decades.

  • 8675309

    Korea needs to get over its victim mentality and stop nursing a grudge against Japan. If Korea is expecting an apology from Japan, I’d say ,”Don’t hold your breath.”

    Comparisons with Germany are totally illogical when you take into consideration how the Japanese educational system is run, and realize how moribund public debate is in Japan society regarding past ‘sins’ — not surprisingly unlike Korea’s own ambivalence to apologize and atone for its own sins — not only in places like Vietnam, but also, Daejon, Kwangju, Cheju-do, etc.

    The day Korea accepts the fact that it is highly unlikely that Japan will ever apologize or show “true remorse” for past acts and behaviors, is the day that Korea takes its place as a true nation among nations.

  • Wedge

    From the CSM link: “With North Korea becoming more aggressive – killing South Korean civilians for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War…”

    How does that tune go? Oh yeah, “Don’t know much about history…” Off the top of my head:

    -Late 80s KAL jetliner downing
    -1996 submarine beaching/commando operation gone wrong
    -Mt. Keumgang ajumma

    And there are probably at least a dozen others.

  • 8675309

    @6:

    I’d go one step further and say there should be an East Asian security community featuring Japan, the ROK, Australia, Indonesia, The Philippines and maybe even Taiwan.

    Been there, done that aaronm. Btw, have you ever heard of SEATO? The founders of this ill-fated organization thought they could replicate what was going in NATO. Obviously, they forgot what METT-TC stands for, and how to do terrain analysis (OCOKA).

    Obviously, Europe, as a contiguous continent has totally different METT-TC and OCOKA considerations from Asia — where each country — separated from other Asian countries by major bodies of water and other inhibiting terrain features — does not lend itself for easy cooperation or similar ways of seeing things as can be done by European allies in NATO. That said, there is no reason and no benefit to any country in Asia to participate in a so-called “East Asian Security community”.

  • seouldout

    @ Aaron – holy christ, Beijing would go bonkers if Taiwan was considered, let along approached. One can only dream, eh?

    The Philippines is a basket case and doesn’t bring any capabilities to the group. Better off bringing in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have achieved much in the SOM, and Japan has worked closely w/ all three on SOM security issues. Australia’s RAAF has a base at Butterworth, too. Vietnam affords the group an excellent position to monitor PLAN activities in Hainan.

  • 8675309

    Dokdo/Takeshima isn’t worth anyone getting their panties in a bunch, at least IMHO.

    The whole Dokdo/Takeshima is like two kids in a kindergarten fighting over the same toy. To wit:

    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!
    Kid 1: 내꺼야!
    Kid 2: それは私です!

  • http://vmphotography.com.au hoju_saram

    Dokdo silliness aside, I don’t blame Koreans from being opposed to the idea of Japanese troops heading to the ROK, for whatever reason.

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    @9 Rangoon bombing – a friend lost his Father there, and Korea lost it’s most distinguished legal scholar and an outstanding statesman

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  • Granfalloon

    aaronm,

    I’ve been pondering exactly that idea for the last couple of years. Still, I’d be surprised if such an alliance, however loose and unofficial, gets very far. That Chinese hegemony you mention has the potential to be pretty damn powerful in this part of the world (and likely elsewhere, too). I think most of the countries you mentioned will knuckle under and do as their told by the big dragon. Who can blame them? They stand to gain more with China than against them.

    Where Korea will fit into this is a much more interesting question, one for which I have no answer. Other than, of course, this: “For South Korea, the matter is extremely delicate and requires a cautious approach.”

  • Wedge

    #14: I was considering those victims as not 100% civilian (which of course does not in any way excuse the heinous act).

  • aaronm

    8675309

    It would look nothing like NATO/SEATO.

    @seouldout

    Very true, a pipe dream, but yes, Malaysia could be considered and Vietnam too. Singapore most definitely.

  • YangachiBastardo

    Who wants to work with a petulant pre-teen?

    When your other neighbour is a 7 foot tall lice infested tweaking 15 years old practicing muay thai 8 hours a day and keen on declarin himself king of the hood…ya know beggars can’t be choosers et al

  • http://pawikirogii.blogspot.com pawikirogii

    ‘not surprisingly unlike Korea’s own ambivalence to apologize and atone for its own sins — not only in places like Vietnam, but also, Daejon, Kwangju, Cheju-do, etc. ‘

    apple, meet orange.

  • seouldout

    @18 – Indeed, there is a real threat, but Seoul prefers to dwell in the world of the imagined threat, thus moving forward in concert with Tokyo will be quite difficult. And since both Japan and Korea have their own security arrangements w/ the US, neither has to take a hard look at itself to make the concessions needed to establish an genuine Japan-Korea security partnership. From the perspective of each, there’s no “had better” behooving them.

    For the sake of fun, let’s assume both establish a regional security arrangement with a few other Asian states. I suspect Korea would use it as a forum to lobby the other partners to censor Tokyo for WWII, East Sea of Japan, and Dokdo issues.

    Either Japan or Korea ought to endeavour to build a “community of interest” to include Oman (or Djibouti), India, the SOM littoral states, Vietnam, and Australia. Initially build it on the basis of safe navigation and over time grow it to a more defence-oriented organization.

  • seouldout

    Whoa there seouldout! You had better put the kybosh on this notion of a ROK-Jap security arrangement. The pig-toed pirates have been spying on Ice Queen Kim Yuna. Undoubtedly this shows their true nature.

  • Hamilton

    “I’d go one step further and say there should be an East Asian security community”.

    We should call it the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere or 大東亜共栄圏. I think China would totally dig it if Japan took a leadership role.

  • cm

    What’s needed here is not a military alliance or block that would be pretty much useless because it would lack teeth. What’s really needed here is an economic block to counter China’s rise. What’s making the Chinese so brash with confidence is that they think they can pretty much throw their weight around and no one will be able to do anything because they control the economies of the region. Koreans and Japanese or Americans for that matter, are helping their own demise each and every time they build a factory and ship out all the jobs to the Chinese. Someone inevitably will come back and say, how can we ignore such a huge important profitable market. There’s your problem, you’re doing business with a rotten government that will never change, and are only helping them to stay in power.

  • YangachiBastardo

    And since both Japan and Korea have their own security arrangements w/ the US, neither has to take a hard look at itself to make the concessions needed to establish an genuine Japan-Korea security partnership

    Yeah but with Uncle Sam goin bankrupt and for the time bein takin an ultra dovish stance on world affairs (see the other excellent Mr. Marmot post) i’m not quite sure Asia can really count on safe American protection and can escape indefinitely the task of finally cooperating directly with each other. I think Carr mentioned this briefly in some other post.

    Mind you that the Eurozone incoming collapse could help the Chinese arms race too: half Europe is basically in the process of ending up under the Dragon sphere of influence. Germany, being herself closer to insolvency than people might realise (75% public debt-to-gdp ratio, zombie banking system, regional budget gaps that make Illinois look good etc.) can’t afford to neither prop up the basket cases of Europe nor to let them rot in the waters of gigantic defaults.

    In this scenario i can easily see China quietly working on havin’ the EU ban on weapon exports lifted. After all the transfer of the Finmeccanica and Airbus complexes in Chinese hands is a reasonable price to pay in exchange of serious help to bail out Italy and **GASP** France.

    Also we forget another major player: Russia, and now that you mentioned it also the other aspiring big man on campus, India

    How these 2 fit into the equation ?

  • belair716_

    Related to Pawikirogii’s comment 5,

    From DongA Ilbo, “조선인 전범들은 日 ‘방패막이’ 술책 희생자”

    The news article in Korean,
    http://news.donga.com/Society/3/03/20101228/33544940/1

    Typical of Japan: so… after WWII, Even Japanese soldiers eventually got away from their heinous war crimes thanks to “샌프란시스코 강화조약”, but the Koreans forced to serve for Japanese military (because at that time Korea was colonized to Japan) are “여전히 전범”??

    The article was published on 28th of Dec. 2010, meaning Japan’s crimes are being exposed still in 2010, decades after.

  • seouldout

    I certainly don’t dispute your 1st paragraph. Me thinks that Korea and Japan don’t realise how threadbare their US security blanket is becoming. Many military observers believe the US will maintain its military superiority for the next 25-30 years. I believe the Chinese rise will be faster than most predict, and it shall bring forth new and effective ways of countering US might.

    If and when the Eurozone crumbles we will see sales of military tech (dual use or not) to the PRC increase.

    I wrote earlier that Korea and/or Japan ought to be working more closely with India and a few other key countries. Building real alliances takes time, and they are well behind the curve. I don’t know how India will unfold, but I suspect it won’t be the bulwark that many in the west hope for. If I were Beijing I’d be funding the Naxalites and other ethno-religious-caste splitist groups in India. Keep Delhi off balance and consumed with internal issues and uproars.

    Russia is the wild card. Not to be unkind to the Russians, but their country is basically a nuclear-armed resource provider – Australia on steroids – that will not match China’s industrial might and econ growth. If I’m in Beijing I covet Siberia. The land. The resources. The lebensraum. It presents the opportunity to long delay China’s demographic decline that’s predicted to begin in 40-50 years. Siberia transforms China. Knock a potential rival out of the Pacific too. How do you grab it from Russia? Shrewd move is to take it over ethnically and economically through development agreements. Later: “Beijing, we demand you annex us!” That Russia is a kleptocracy may make these deals easier for Beijing to obtain. If Siberia is beyond Beijing’s grasp Central Asia is pretty attractive.

  • Granfalloon

    George Friedman predicts that, within twenty to thirty years, we’ll see China collapse due to internal conflict, a desperately flailing Russia, and Japan growing more militant as their resources become scarce.

    Not sure how much I agree with him (he’s been harping about another Japan-U.S. war for like twenty years now), but that book of his, “The Next 100 Years” is pretty entertaining. If only for the sci-fi description of how WWIII will play out. Moon rockets!

  • slim

    “Not to be unkind to the Russians, but their country is basically a nuclear-armed resource provider – Australia on steroids – that will not match China’s industrial might and econ growth.”

    I attended a USSR-hosted academic conference in Vladivostok in 1990 — Gorbachev days of maximum openness and relative optimism but tough living conditions — and one of the think tank organizers said: “The Soviet Union is basically Burkina Faso with nuclear weapons.”

  • http://www.biblegateway.com setnaffa

    “When the Canadians put Defense Scheme No. 1 into motion, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

    I’m not sure even Quebec would really want Seattle these days…

  • Sonagi

    It presents the opportunity to long delay China’s demographic decline that’s predicted to begin in 40-50 years.

    China’s demographic decline won’t begin in 50 years. It’ll peak then. China’s retired to working adult ratio will surpass that of the US in 25 years as the demographic pyramid shifts upward.

  • seouldout

    China’s demographic decline won’t begin in 50 years. It’ll peak then.

    C’mon… I’m making this up as I go on. Working without a net here. The gist is the country is aging. And quickly enough. You don’t build everything up just to let go idle ‘cuz the county’s filled up with crusties, do ya? Go forth and multiply… that’ll be the dictat. Smiley happy Chinese families with 4 and 5 children building China’s next 1000 years in Siberia.

  • slim

    Some Chinawatchers predict a relaxation of the one-child policy in China in coming years to alter the pyramid, or at least slow its inversion.

  • YangachiBastardo

    souldout: i agree with you on India, i’m actually even more radical, i think India is the subprime of Asia and the country in the area with the potential to pull a 1997 out of the hat in the coming years. There will be blood, figuratively and literally considering the place has quite a penchant for wanton ethnic violence.

    Russia i’m not so sure, it is true that basically a secular bull market in natural resources saved it from nuclear winter (again quite literally i suspect) and that its industrial apparatus , barred the military, is still crumbling.

    A situation like this would make Russia a potential client state of China indeed, providing the Dragon with all weapons (and resources and as you pointed out land they barely use anymore considering their declining population) they need in order to eat and feed the thugocracy. Still this is politically a hard sell, even for Vlad the Impaler in the skinhead capital of the world.

    I don’t think China would want to push openly Russia into a position of overt inferiority if they don’t want to end up dealing with a paranoid nazi regime, instead of a moderately reasonable fascist one.

    I see Russia evolving toward a position of relative neutrality toward all the Asian players: basically selling resources and weapons to everybody in the region, which would also allow it to retain some role of political power broker

    If and when the Eurozone crumbles

    when

    Some Chinawatchers predict a relaxation of the one-child policy in China in coming years to alter the pyramid, or at least slow its inversion

    And that will be when Chinese families will happily tell the regime to fuck off, capitalism is notoriously the most effective contraceptive

  • http://timurileng.blogspot.com Zhang Fei

    It could happen in the blink of an eye. But only in the context of a hot war involving China. When you have bigger fish to fry, old grudges will get swept under the carpet.

  • wjk, 검은 머리 외국인

    Zhang Fei, you are right.
    That is how alliances usually form.

    And it makes the most sense.
    China supports North Korea and it is a military totalitarian fascist state with ambitions to invade the military, commercial, and environmental interests of its neighbors.

    But as you know with regards to ROTK, betrayal will deepen the rivalry.

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  • http://timurileng.blogspot.com Zhang Fei

    But as you know with regards to ROTK, betrayal will deepen the rivalry.

    The greatest strategist in RTK was Cao Cao. Zhuge Liang was a capable tactician, but he was no strategist. Cao Cao got the two minnows fighting, when the latter should have deferred all hostilities until their respective kingdoms were roughly in balance. Chinese strategists will follow Cao Cao’s example (and the example of all Chinese strategists) and attempt to pit one barbarian against another – in this instance, all of the countries upon which China has territorial ambitions. In Chinese history, the barbarians on China’s borders typically made their peace with China despite relentless Chinese annexations of new territory. Time will tell if East Asia will be Anschluss’ed quite as readily.