As South Sudan goes to shit, Korea and Japan squabble over ammo shipment

So, things are looking pretty bad in South Sudan, where the UN is saying thousands are dead in communal violence that is threatening to tear the world’s newest nation apart.

If there was one potential bright side to genocidal ethnic strife, though, it was that it might have provided a golden opportunity for Korea and Japan to play nice with one another.

You see, Korea has 280 troops deployed as peacekeepers to the town of Bor. Things around Bor have gotten very bad—today in fact mortar rounds landed on the UN base the Koreans share with Indian and Nepalese peacekeepers, wounding several Nepalese troops. The Korean force—composed mostly of lightly armed engineering and medical units—felt they needed more ammo in case the shit hit the fan, so the unit commander asked the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for ammunition. And they got it in the form of 10,000 rounds from the Japanese SDF, which has 300 men deployed to the South Sudanese capital of Juba.

Great, you say—Korea and Japan are working together in the face of a common crisis. Might this be the start of a rapprochement?

Sadly, it appears not.

In fact, the Japanese supply of ammo to Korean troops in South Sudan now appears to be becoming, as they say, a diplomatic issue.

For starters, Seoul and Tokyo are putting out differing stories as to how this all went down. The Korean side says this was entirely a UN thing—the Korean commander put in a request to UNMISS command, and it just so happened that the only folk around using God-fearing 5.56 NATO rounds were the Japanese in Juba.

The Japanese, meanwhile, released on Tuesday a video of Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera receiving a report from the Japanese colonel in charge of the SDF forces in South Sudan. The SDF commander said the Korean colonel in charge of the Korean troops in Bor called the SDF unit directly to make an emergency request for ammo. He said the Korean colonel told him that 15,000 refugees were camped out around Bor, that the Koreans were the only troops defending the town, and the area was full of hostiles. He also said the Korean commander expressed his appreciation for the ammo shipment.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a press conference the same day that the Korean government had made a request for ammo through the Korean embassy in Tokyo on Sunday.

The Korean side is now accusing the Japanese of politically using the emergency faced by Korean troops in South Sudan, with one unnamed official telling the Chosun Ilbo that the Abe government’s linking of the ammo supply to its “active pacifism” initiative was a “clear political provocation.” Another unnamed official said Korea had told the Japanese to handle this quietly out of fear that the locals would turn hostile and attack Korean troops if word got out that they’d received ammo, but the Japanese were instead turning this into a big story. Korean government officials are also saying that they intend to return all the ammo to Japan once Korean ammo arrives from Korea, despite the fact that the Japanese said they could keep it.

The Japanese side, meanwhile, is pissed off with the Koreans—and not without reason, IMHO—for not only being ungrateful, but brazenly so. The Hani says one exasperated high-ranking Japanese government official was crying, “How the heck can we hold a summit with a nation like Korea?” It also seems that a lot of the alleged “noise” Japan was making was not to show off what they were doing for the Koreans, but rather to fend off domestic criticism that Abe and Co. were using the crisis in South Sudan to break Japan’s long-standing self-imposed ban on weapon exports.

Well, at least Ban Ki-moon thought the ammo supply was a good thing.

In an editorial, Ye Olde Chosun—sit down for this—criticizes Japan for acting as if Korea now supported the Abe government’s “active pacifism,” but at the same time blasted the Korean Defense Ministry for incompetence (the second rotation of Korean troops arrived in South Sudan in October with little in the way of arms, despite three months having passed since the South Sudanese president sacked his vice president, kicking off the current crisis) and the Park administration’s foreign policy making process (the Defense Ministry apparently made the decision to accept Japanese ammo on its own, with no larger discussion of the political ramifications).

For their part, Japanese newspapers don’t appear especially thrilled about the ammo supply, either, but for very different reasons. Both the Asahi and Mainichi think the Abe government have a lot more explaining to do. Says the Asahi:

At the end of the day, there are too many unclear points about this “exceptional case” to verify the appropriateness of the government’s decision.

For instance, we don’t know the circumstances under which the United Nations asked Japan for the ammo giveaway. The South Korean side said it did not request Japan’s help in desperation, but what, exactly, was the situation? And what sort of discussion did the newly created National Security Council have before it decided to provide the ammunition? The government needs to answer these questions in detail.

Any discrepancy between Seoul’s explanation and Tokyo’s could aggravate the already strained bilateral relationship. And down the road, Tokyo ought to disclose how the ammo was used.

The National Security Council, whose members include the prime minister and the defense minister, is a very small organization. If the government fails to tell the public how the council discussed the matter, it cannot expect to gain widespread understanding.

The last thing our country needs is for the Abe administration to get the SDF more deeply involved in international conflicts by letting the National Security Council call the shots and establish new precedents in the absence of any legal framework, and in the name of “proactive pacifism.”

For that matter, the Mainichi says even if the Koreans desperately needed ammo, the way the decision to give it to them was made was “unruly.”

Honestly, this is extremely frustrating. I admit when I first read a Yonhap report on the ammo shipment two days ago, my first reaction was “Holy shit, they’re getting ammo from who?”, but this was soon followed by optimism that this might provide an opportunity for the two sides to pretend they play for the same team for a change.

Alas, it seems I was wrong.

Meanwhile, Korea says it is not considering sending more troops to South Sudan, but is willing to review “all options” if the UN makes a request.


    Who’s in favour of making these two children have a timeout? Pettiness is what this grandstanding in the media is by both sides.

  • Jericha

    More than a little symbolism in Korea’s insistence on returning the ammo to Japan.

  • kaizenmx

    So japan sends ammo to Korean UN troops, then proceeds to bitch about it?

    If they were going to cry and moan about ammo, they shouldn’t have sent them then.

  • Cham

    How fucking silly. The South Korean government needs to learn how to say thank you. Additionally, the Japanese government probably also needs to learn to keep their mouth shut. If Korea didn’t want this publicized to protect their troops, this is probably a very big annoyance.

  • Aja Aja

    The ammos were worth 3 million dollars in total, and came in six ramen box sized boxes, according to Chosun Ilbo. Big huge deal in Japan though.

  • redwhitedude

    Hey while south sudan goes to hell why not settle differences with Japan there?

    No Korean or japanese cities going to hell.

  • RElgin

    What is really despicable is the DP spokesman Kim Kwan-young’s commentary on this:

    . . . It is undeniable that the latest situation supported Japan’s attempt to become a military superpower. . . .

    Japan does not want to become a “military superpower”, they want to defend their country.
    Such a controversy-loving idiots and politicians! These people are the kind of politicians that would steal the pope’s wallet and give it back in front of cameras to demonstrate their generosity and high moral qualities!

  • redwhitedude

    Japan is trying to break out of the “pacifist” mindset that they’ve been on for the last 60-70 years. Hard habit to kick.

  • redwhitedude

    Let’s have a christmas truce by shooting at each other. lol

  • Jericha

    And today the Japanese decided to give the Koreans even more ammunition:

  • RElgin

    Maybe there should be a special Korea/Japan GTA edition where they could squabble and shoot up each other’s cars while wearing pig masks.

  • Kaseijin

    Japan cannot make this secret, and I think this should not be secret.

    If Japan made this thing secret then the secret was leaked, what would happen?

    Very dangerous to the Japanese government. This month Japanese government passed a law concerning secrecy. There was lots of debates and contraversy.

    And there was a policy in Japan about weapons. Sending weapons to other countries were against the policy.

    So what would happen. Abe cabinet would face big trouble from within and outside like China and Koreas.

    And do you want this important thing secret or open? I like government actions open as much as they can.

  • pawikirogii

    get ready for a bunch of pissed off expats excusing the japanese pm paying homage to war criminals.

  • seouldout

    Thank the Lord no Korean was injured in the mortar attack and required blood. Jap blood! *Shudder*

  • seouldout

    An even bigger huger deal to soldiers who need ammo.

  • kaizenmx

    japan does want to become a regional power player. Undermining Korea in politics is one of their major objectives.

  • Hitokiri 1989

    Wow no blogpost on Yasukuni yet?

  • redwhitedude

    I’m sure there’ll be people working on mods for shoot’em up games.
    What a way to celebrate christmas have a nice shooting war away from Korea and Japan. Turn africa into an arena where they could take out their historical differences.

  • SeoulGoodman

    3 million dollars? As in 300$ for a single 5.56? Are they out of their flipping minds? Nah, it’s most likely worth about 3 million won. 5.56 ammo goes for about 50 cents a round at retail.

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  • jk641

    Great, now Korea will definitely return the ammunition.

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  • Jerry

    It’s simple: it really doesn’t take much for a non-Korean to offend a Korean and of all non-Koreans it is the Japanese that Koreans are most easily offend by.

    Thus, strange as it seems, a gift of ammo where Korean lives may depend on it is enough to cause offense where it’s the Japanese who are making the gift.

  • Heidi

    Dear dear dear…
    How more pathetic and complex can South Korea get?
    Watching them in the past couple of years, I think it’s best lock up Korea & China. Let them serve and please themselves and not involve outside world in their inferior politics.

  • Jerry

    Ok, I’m still waiting. Wake me up when we get there.

  • DC Musicfreak

    Why does it always seem that Korea’s diplomats, policymakers and journalists, when faced with complex issues, display the analytical skills of pawigirogi?

  • M4-Shooter

    10,000 rounds of 5.56 is in reality a miniscule amount. I fire more than that myself each year in training exercises. Why are these two nations/neighbors squabbling over such trivialities?

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