Biden ‘investing heavily’ in rebuilding Japan-South Korea ties as China challenges ‘world order’ in Indo-Pacific

As NATO’s 30 members gather in the Spanish capital Madrid on June 28-30 for what will be the military alliance’s 32nd summit since 1949, attention will also be drawn to side meetings between their countries. partners, especially Japan. and South Korea, which, although not members, were invited to the summit with the aim of promoting the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

NATO summit meetings usually involve only member countries. However, special invitations have sometimes been sent to ministers of defence, ministers of foreign affairs or heads of state and government of member countries of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, of countries supporting operations led by the NATO or senior representatives of international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union and the World Bank.

Leaders from Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Ukraine, Georgia and the European Union have also been invited to the upcoming summit.

A key element of the Madrid summit is the South Korean leader’s participation in a NATO gathering for the first time. Newly elected President Yoon Suk-yeol will attend the NATO summit on his first overseas trip since taking office.

His participation is seen as significant, given that US President Joe Biden has found him receptive to the idea of ​​a rapprochement with Japan.

For the United States, cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo, two of its rebel allies in East Asia, would be essential in developing and implementing strategies to meet the pressing challenges of an emboldened China and a North Korea with nuclear weapons.

Biden wants the South Korean president and Japanese prime minister to take the opportunity of the NATO summit and engage in what will be the first bilateral talks between the two heads of government since late 2019.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is even more eager than President Biden to meet President Yoon. In fact, according to press reports, he plans to hold a quadripartite summit with South Korea, Australia and New Zealand on the sidelines of the NATO leaders’ meeting, with the aim of promoting the vision of a “free and open India”. -Peaceful.”

Japanese US-2s and American Pave Hawks at Cope North 22 (US Air Force photo)

And, just as important, he hopes to organize another summit with South Korea and the United States. focus on responses to China’s maritime activities and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

Under Moon Jae-in’s previous leftist presidency, relations between Japan and South Korea had reached historic lows. As it stands, the two countries have a troubled history of brief Japan but intense colonial rule by then-united Korea on the one hand and some maritime territorial disputes on the other.

But, despite their checkered history, Japan and South Korea are natural partners in many ways, experts say. Both share democratic values, deep economic ties and close alliances with the United States. And both are causing growing concerns about China.

Negative public sentiment towards Beijing is growing in both countries, in part because both have confronted Chinese economic coercion.

By the way, Prime Minister Kishida and President Yoon are relatively new to their jobs. While Kishida took office last October, Yoon’s presidency only began last month. This novelty could bring freshness to their bilateral relations, especially when their powerful common ally, the United States, wants it the most, given the delicate regional security situation.

In this context, it is significant that both leaders are positive about the prospects for reconciliation. In April, Japan’s prime minister said it was “now or never” to settle the hostile relationship. And President Yoon has called for a “rethink” of relations and campaigned on a promise to improve relations.

All in all, South Korea’s security, which depends on the presence of American troops in the country and the comprehensive security treaty with the United States, is closely linked to Japan. In any case, if the Americans are engaged in South Korean security, they need their bases in neighboring Japan, Japanese airfields and Japanese ports.

South Korean K9 Thunders, (Wikipedia)
South Korean K9 Thunders, (Wikipedia)

A war cannot be won by South Korea or, for that matter, the United States on the Korean Peninsula until Japan supports and cooperates. As Chun In-bum, a former commander of South Korean special forces, said, “Seoul and Tokyo had to separate historical issues and economic frictions from their mutual security interests.

We cannot win a war on the Korean peninsula without Japan. It’s like an aircraft carrier that can never be sunk; it is essential for Korea’s security.

Even otherwise, Japan and South Korea share similar security concerns. Neither would want an Indo-Pacific to come under Chinese hegemony. Both are concerned about China’s relentless military modernization efforts and its increasingly assertive behavior in the South and East China Seas.

Experts too report how the war in Ukraine indirectly amplified common Japanese and South Korean concerns about North Korea. Since the Russian invasion, North Korea has conducted a series of missile tests, including short-range hypersonic missiles and an intermediate-range ballistic missile, and its first intercontinental ballistic missile test since 2017.

Moscow’s attack on a country that has renounced its nuclear weapons will only intensify Pyongyang’s belief in the need for such weapons to deter potential aggression, fueling the North’s commitment to expanding its atomic arsenal.

Seen in this light, it is essential to note that the new South Korean president has expressed his intention to strengthen South Korea’s defense capabilities by strengthening ties with the United States and Japan. President Yoon seeks to improve the combined South Korea-U.S. defense posture and interoperability between the two forces and bolster U.S. extended nuclear deterrence.

The new president places great importance on the security alliance between South Korea and the United States and on South Korea’s responsibility as an ally. He said Seoul should actively participate in the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy and strive to strengthen trilateral security cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan.

As it stands, President Biden had undertaken a visit to Seoul in May. During its summit meeting with its host, President Yoon, the two countries reiterated that the US-Korea security bond has never been more relevant and vital than it is today. Following this summit, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin traveled to Washington earlier this month (June 13) to meet with Secretary of State Antony J Blinken.

And the two agreed that they would work trilaterally with Japan and multilaterally with allies and other friendly countries in the Indo-Pacific region for peace not only in the peninsula but also in the whole region and in the world in general. .

In fact, Blinken made it clear that the United States is “committed to helping our partners overcome challenges in their relationship, which is in the collective interest of the region and the people of all three countries.”

Furthermore, “we are working closely with the Republic of Korea and other partners to develop the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which our countries launched together in Tokyo last month along with 11 others.

This will establish a solid foundation for strong and sustainable economic growth in an incredibly dynamic region.

Our countries are committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific where innovation flourishes, supply chains are secure, labor and environmental standards are high, and the rules of the road give workers and businesses of all countries an equal chance to compete for success,” Secretary Blinken added.

For his part, Foreign Minister Park Jin stressed the need to strengthen security cooperation with Japan while mending soured ties with the East Asian neighbor rather than later.

He called for real progress in the sharing of military intelligence between the two countries under the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). “We want GSOMIA to be normalized as soon as possible with the improvement of Korea-Japan relations,” Park said.

And that suggestion was immediately countered by Japanese Defense Minister Noburo Kishi, who welcomed Park’s proposal and expressed hope for a “smoother operation” of the pact.

It may be noted that the GSOMIA was signed in 2016 to jointly address North Korea’s military threats. Yet the deal has remained shaky since August 2019, when South Korea and Japan fell out following a South Korean court verdict that ordered a Japanese company operating in South Korea to pay compensation for historic wrongs committed by Japan in its colonial rule of Korea.

Japan has imposed export restrictions on key materials essential for the production of semiconductors and display panels while excluding Seoul from its list of preferred trading partners.

Park’s call for the active implementation of the GSOMIA should be seen as consistent with President Yoon’s efforts for better relations with Japan. As things stand, President Yoon not only hailed the Indo-Pacific economic framework, but also expressed his willingness to join, if invited, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), colloquially the Quad, which is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the United States.

The call for the implementation of GSOMIA should also be considered alongside the agreement between the defense ministers of South Korea, Japan and the United States to conduct joint military exercises in early August in Hawaii to improve missile detection and tracking capabilities, thereby strengthening deterrence against possible North Korean attacks.

Full-fledged use of the GSOMIA is seen as the first step towards Seoul and Tokyo repairing their ties in more ways than one.

  • Veteran author and journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the Editorial Board of EurAsian Times and has been commentating on politics, foreign policy and strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and a recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Fellowship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. CONTACT: [email protected]
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