Japan and South Korea are working to restore bilateral relations after several years of trade and other disputes. The move comes as the two countries increasingly align themselves with US war plans against China and Russia. Washington considers close cooperation between two of its main allies in the region to be crucial.
Japan’s Vice Defense Minister for International Affairs Masami Oka and South Korea’s Vice Defense Minister Sin Beom-cheol met on September 7 on the sidelines of the three-day China Defense Dialogue. Seoul, which started the day before. It was the first time in six years that the two sides held face-to-face talks at the vice-ministerial level. Since taking office in May, right-wing South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has made it clear that his administration will strive to strengthen cooperation with Tokyo.
Sin then said the talks “took place because both sides believe it is necessary to normalize defense cooperation between South Korea and Japan.” He added, “We agreed to continue cooperation and recognize the importance of South Korean, American and Japanese security cooperation in order to respond to and contain North Korean nuclear and missile threats.”
While North Korean “threats” are the pretext, closer relations between Tokyo and Seoul come as Washington deepens its military preparations for war with China while intensifying its proxy war in Ukraine against Russia.
In Asia, the United States has carried out a number of provocations over Taiwan, which is part of China under the “One China” policy. Washington formally claims to adhere to the policy, but is increasingly contesting it, prompting Beijing to take forceful measures to prevent the United States from securing its strategic and economic dominance over the island. This includes the Biden administration’s recent approval of $1.1 billion in arms sales to the island.
Tokyo has also followed in Washington’s footsteps, leading its own provocations. These include the dispatch of a delegation of lawmakers to Taiwan last month, just weeks after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island sharply increased tensions with Beijing. Seoul is increasingly aligning itself explicitly with US and Japanese imperialism in its war campaign against China.
Among the issues addressed by Oka and Sin is a December 2018 incident involving a South Korean navy ship and a Japanese military patrol aircraft in the Sea of Japan, which still poses an obstacle to military cooperation. At the time, Tokyo accused the South Korean side of locking its fire control radar on the Japanese plane as a step before opening fire. Seoul accused the Japanese plane of making a threatening low-level overflight of the ship and denied locking onto the plane. Instead, Seoul said the ship was using a radar system not connected to the ship’s fire-control system to locate a North Korean fishing boat that had sent out a distress signal.
The incident contributed to the deterioration of relations between Tokyo and Seoul, which continued to decline the following year due to trade disputes. The then Moon Jae-in administration also intended to allow the expiration in November 2019 of a US-backed intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, known as the Accord. General Security of Military Information (GSOMIA), and only agreed to extend the agreement. under pressure from Washington.
Despite speculation before the meeting, Oka and Sin reportedly did not discuss “normalizing” the pact. Seoul, however, said it intended to standardize GSOMIA with Tokyo, in the interests of a “future-oriented” relationship. A month after the new Yoon government took office, Foreign Minister Park Jin pledged at a June press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington: “We want the GSOMIA be normalized as soon as possible with the improvement of the relationship.”
Washington views the GSOMIA as a key component of its war preparations and the operation of its regional anti-ballistic missile systems. The ability of Japan and South Korea to quickly share military intelligence during conflict is crucial, especially as the United States takes control of the South Korean military in the event of war.
The US ballistic missile system includes the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery and AN/TPY-2 radar stationed in South Korea as well as two additional AN/TPY-2 radars stationed in Japan. The system is not designed to protect the populations of either country from alleged Chinese or North Korean threats, but to protect US bases from counterattacks in a US-initiated war. The THAAD battery in South Korea, given its location, does not even have the range to cover Seoul, with its population of 10 million.
On the same day as the talks were held in Seoul, US, Japanese and South Korean officials held a trilateral meeting in Tokyo. Among the participants were Sung Kim, the American special envoy for North Korea, Takehiro Funakoshi, Japanese director general of the Office of Asian and Oceanian Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Kim Geon of South Korea, special representative for the peace and security affairs on the Korean Peninsula. Both Funakoshi and Kim of South Korea said their respective governments would work to improve relations.
The three accused North Korea of preparing to carry out a seventh nuclear test, a claim they have all been making for months. They said there would be “resolved responses” to a retest, but did not say what that would entail. The United States and its allies have cornered North Korea with longstanding and crippling sanctions on Pyongyang that have isolated the impoverished country from the global economy.
Last month, the United States and South Korea resumed large-scale military exercises, ending a deal Trump struck with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to suspend those war games in exchange for halting North Korean nuclear and long-range missile testing.
During the talks last week, South Korea’s Kim also spoke of Seoul’s “bold” economic plan for North Korea if Pyongyang demonstrates to Washington’s and Seoul’s satisfaction that it has taken sufficient steps towards denuclearization. The purpose of Seoul’s offer, with Washington’s backing, is to try to pull Pyongyang out of Beijing’s orbit and neutralize the North ahead of a conflict with China. However, in August, Kim Yo-jong, a figurehead of Pyongyang’s Stalinist bureaucracy and sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, denounced Seoul’s offer as “childish” and “repugnant”.
Ultimately, the developing relationship between Tokyo and Seoul is another step towards a US-led war on China, whether launched directly with Beijing over Taiwan or North Korea and of its nuclear and missile programs.