Seoul-Tokyo pact an in­vi­ta­tion to trou­ble

But the big­gest vic­tim of all will be the ROK it­self be­cause it lacks the ca­pac­ity to ma­neu­ver its way out of a con­flict, even if the pact takes ef­fect.

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS -

De­spite the fierce do­mes­tic op­po­si­tion, the Repub­lic of Korea signed an agree­ment on shar­ing mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence with Ja­pan onWed­nes­day. The pact will al­low the two coun­tries to di­rectly share in­for­ma­tion on the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea with­out first go­ing throughUS in­tel­li­gence.

At a news con­fer­ence on the same day, Chi­nese For­eignMin­istry spokesman Geng Shuang crit­i­cized the agree­ment, warning that strength­ened mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence shar­ing be­tween some coun­tries be­cause of their Cold War men­tal­ity would “ag­gra­vate an­tag­o­nism and con­fronta­tion on the Korean Penin­sula”.

Seoul’s “hasty” de­ci­sion to freely ex­change in­for­ma­tion with Tokyo, and their com­mon ally Wash­ing­ton, is es­sen­tially in line with the ma­jor changes in its for­eign pol­icy. Just two months ago, the DPRK con­ducted the fifth nu­clear test since 2006 and the sec­ond this year, giv­ing enough rea­sons for the ROK’s in­creas­ingly as­sertive re­sponse.

Apart from press­ing ahead with the de­ploy­ment of the Ter­mi­nalHigh Al­ti­tude Area De­fense anti-mis­sile sys­tem on ROK soil, Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye paid a rare visit to Iran in­May, pos­si­bly to draw­in­spi­ra­tion from the Iran nu­clear deal.

It is also highly likely that Park has more in mind than na­tional se­cu­rity. Trapped in a ma­jor in­flu­ence-ped­dling scan­dal, she has been con­fronted with sev­eral mass demon­stra­tions de­mand­ing her res­ig­na­tion. The em­bat­tled ROK pres­i­dent has good rea­sons to pur­sue diplo­matic break­throughs, in or­der to di­vert public anger and prove to the op­po­si­tion that she is still in charge and ca­pa­ble of ful­fill­ing her pres­i­den­tial du­ties.

The Seoul-Tokyo mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing pact, on the other hand, show­cases the ROK’s in­cli­na­tion to con­sol­i­date its re­la­tions with theUnited States. Tech­ni­cally, the pact is un­likely to make any dif­fer­ence for Seoul if it truly seeks to “bet­ter man­age the threats” from Py­ongyang, be­cause Ja­pan’s in­tel­li­gence on the DPRK, ba­si­cally gath­ered by Ja­panese satel­lites and radar sys­tems, is ques­tion­able. Lim­ited chan­nels for col­lect­ing such in­for­ma­tion aside, the much-de­sired ex­change of in­tel­li­gence be­tween Seoul and Tokyo largely would over­lap that be­tween Seoul and Wash­ing­ton.

This con­tra­dic­tion is ex­actly what the op­po­si­tion and many en­raged ROK ci­ti­zens have been urg­ing Park to ex­plain. Her de­ci­sion to cut the deal by by­pass­ing the op­po­si­tion and par­lia­ment also lacks pro­ce­dural le­git­i­macy and public sup­port.

Many ROK ci­ti­zens re­main wary of the deep­en­ing ROK-Ja­pan ties when Ja­pan is yet to atone for its ag­gres­sion and atroc­i­ties in their coun­try. Protests are held from time to time over the thou­sands of Korean “com­fort women” forced into sex slav­ery dur­ingWorldWar II.

The in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing pact makes clear Park’s in­ten­tion that her govern­ment will fol­low the US’ lead in ma­jor strate­gic is­sues, and her will­ing­ness to step up the tri­lat­eral mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion with theUS and Ja­pan re­gard­less of the po­lit­i­cal pres­sures at home. It also sug­gests Seoul is more open to con­fronta­tion and flex­ing of mus­cles, in­stead of peace­ful di­a­logues, in han­dling the DPRK nu­clear is­sue.

How­ever, his­tory tells us such an ap­proach will not work in the fore­see­able fu­ture. In­stead, it could back­fire. Py­ongyang has re­port­edly crit­i­cized the mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing pact as “a dan­ger­ous act” that would heighten ten­sions on the Korean Penin­sula and open the door to a “re-in­va­sion” by Ja­pan. As such, the pact could prompt Py­ongyang to take a tougher stance against Seoul and thus deal an­other blow to their al­ready shaky re­la­tions.

Ten­sions may es­ca­late and spill over into other re­gional coun­tries, adding fuel to an emerg­ing se­cu­rity con­fronta­tion. Wash­ing­ton and Tokyo are very likely to use the pact to con­tain and keep a closer eye on Bei­jing andMoscow, in the name of beef­ing up de­fense co­op­er­a­tion. But the big­gest vic­tim of all will be the ROK it­self be­cause it lacks the ca­pac­ity to ma­neu­ver its way out of a con­flict, even if the pact takes ef­fect. The au­thor is a re­searcher of Asia-Pa­cific strat­egy at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sci­ences. The ar­ti­cle is an ex­cerpt from his in­ter­view with China Daily’s Cui Shoufeng.

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