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Seoul cautions Tokyo over collective self-defense move

Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo told his Japanese counterpart Wednesday that Tokyo’s exercise of the right to collective self-defense should not have negative impacts on regional stability and peninsular security.

Baek held bilateral talks with Japanese Vice Defense Minister Masanori Nishi on the sidelines of the Seoul Defense Dialogue, an international security forum hosted by Seoul’s Defense Ministry.

The vice-minister talks between the two neighbors, the first in two years, came amid increasing concerns here over Tokyo’s push to build up its military.

A bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact, which the two sides failed to sign last year amid deteriorating relations, was also on the agenda. Baek said during the talks that public consensus in favor of the pact should first be forged before signing it.

“Baek delivered our stance and concerns over Japan’s pursuit of the right to collective self-defense,” Seoul’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters.

“He clarified that its pursuit should be carried out in a way that contributes to regional peace and stability under the spirit of its pacifist constitution, and in a way that is transparent and addresses neighboring states’ doubts and concerns.”

Baek recently said it was not the right time for Tokyo to push collective self-defense. He argued that Japan should first restore trust with its neighboring states, particularly South Korea and China, the major victims of the archipelago state’s past militarism.

Japan has been pushing for collective self-defense by altering its interpretation of the war-renouncing constitution or revising the constitution. The right refers to the use of force to an attack on its ally, namely the U.S.

South Korea and China have watched Japan’s military armament with great suspicion. Seoul’s concern is that with the right of collective self-defense, Japanese troops could set foot on the peninsula again ― a scenario unacceptable to Koreans who suffered under Japan’s 1910-45 colonization.

Amid their historical and territorial disputes, the two neighbors have not been able to actively promote security cooperation.

Bilateral relations have worsened with a recent series of nationalist remarks by high-profile conservative politicians in Japan ― part of the reason the leaders of the two countries have yet to hold their first summit.

The three-day Seoul Defense Dialogue ended Wednesday. At the forum, 21 countries including the U.S., Canada, Singapore and Australia, and the U.N., the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU participated.

By Song Sang-ho (