The time is ripe for Japan and South Korea to enhance the quality of their security cooperation, without confining it to the field of defence exchanges.
Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin agreed in their meeting on Jan. 10 in Seoul that the two countries would work more closely, given a series of military provocations by North Korea and other destabilising factors in the region. Kitazawa was the first Japanese defence minister in six years to visit South Korea.
Japan and South Korea share the strategic goal of ensuring peace and stability in East Asia and have the United States as a common ally. It will be important for the defense ministers of the two countries to more frequently visit each other and exchange opinions on security situations in the region so that shared concerns will be reflected in the defence policies of both countries.
In the latest meeting, the ministers agreed to start discussions toward concluding an “acquisition and cross-servicing agreement” (ACSA) between the two countries. They also acknowledged the need to sign a “general security of military information agreement,” a pact to prevent leaks of defence information.
An ACSA will entitle units of the two countries to reciprocal provision of supplies and services in joint exercises and U.N. peacekeeping operations. Japan has already reached such accords with the United States and Australia.
In peacekeeping operations in earthquake-stricken Haiti last year, the Ground Self-Defence Force set up residential containers for the South Korean Army while the South Korean forces dug a well at the GSDF quarters.
A conclusion of an ACSA will help strengthen cooperation between the two countries’ defense forces, enabling them to provide food, water and fuel and transport goods for each other. The two countries should sign the accord as soon as possible.
On the other hand, the military information sharing agreement is a comprehensive pact on information protection and procedures on providing data to a third country when sharing confidential defense information. If Japan signs the accord with South Korea, it will be the third such agreement following those with the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Signing these pacts and increasing the sharing of information, such as intelligence on North Korea, would significantly benefit both Japan and South Korea.
Since the 1990s, the two countries have undertaken such defense exchanges as mutual visits by senior defense officers and shared group activities at lower levels. However, they have yet to draw up plans to prepare for contingencies or conduct joint exercises. This is because of reservations on the side of the South Korean government due to its people’s deep-rooted allergy to the SDF, resulting from Japan’s past colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
However, the bilateral relationship has been improving since the inauguration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s administration. Last year, the South Korean Army participated as observers in the Japan-U.S. joint exercise while the SDF did the same in the U.S.-South Korean exercise. Enhanced Japan-South Korean cooperation would solidify collaboration among the two countries plus the United States.
The Japanese and South Korean governments are considering issuing a joint declaration on politics and security during Lee’s scheduled visit to Japan later this year. We urge both governments to realize the plan.
Another long-standing issue of contention is whether South Korea will allow the SDF to rescue Japanese nationals in the country in the event of contingencies on the Korean Peninsula. We urge the governments of the two countries to improve the environment for negotiations at an early date and begin substantial discussions.
(The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 12)