South Korea’s feud with Ja­pan hurts U.S. pol­icy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY GUY TAYLOR

South Korea’s can­cel­la­tion of a key in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing pact with Ja­pan has trig­gered a grow­ing diplo­matic spat with Wash­ing­ton that an­a­lysts say weak­ens Pres­i­dent Trump’s North Korea pol­icy and throws into ques­tion the three-way al­liance un­der­pin­ning Amer­i­can se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture across Asia.

With South Korea sum­mon­ing U.S. Am­bas­sador Harry Har­ris to de­mand that Wash­ing­ton tone down its crit­i­cism, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is fac­ing calls to tread with care in its ef­forts to con­tain the rift be­tween its two East Asian al­lies.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to do more to sal­vage this thing and not just crit­i­cize Seoul for drop­ping it,” said Pa­trick Cronin, the Asia-Pa­cific se­cu­rity chair at the Hud­son In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton.

“We have the two al­liances, but the whole point is that they are the ba­sis on which we build a much larger re­gional se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture that’s ad­vanc­ing our in­ter­ests and val­ues across the re­gion,” Mr. Cronin told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “If our two key pil­lars are wob­bly … we don’t look like we are an ef­fec­tive leader.”

Oth­ers warn that the feud puts in jeop­ardy Mr. Trump’s sig­na­ture diplo­matic over­ture: the pur­suit of nuclear diplo­macy with North Korea. U.S. ef­forts to woo Py­ongyang have re­lied heav­ily on lock­step co­or­di­na­tion with the gov­ern­ment of South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in over the past two years.

David Maxwell, a for­mer U.S. Spe­cial Forces of­fi­cer and se­nior North Korea an­a­lyst at the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies, said the “cracks in the ar­mor of the al­liance” be­tween the U.S. and South Korea — com­monly re­ferred to as the Repub­lic of Korea, or ROK — will af­fect the North Korea pol­icy and could worsen dra­mat­i­cally.

“There will be no suc­cess­ful out­come on the Korean Penin­sula or in North­east Asia un­less there is a foun­da­tion of a strong ROK/U.S. al­liance and Ja­panese/U.S. al­liance and ef­fec­tive tri­lat­eral co­or­di­na­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion and co­op­er­a­tion,” Mr. Maxwell wrote in com­ments cir­cu­lated to re­porters.

By some mea­sures, the cracks in the ar­mor have been widen­ing for sev­eral years while Wash­ing­ton turned a blind eye on the as­sump­tion that Ja­pan and South Korea would find a way to work to­gether as fel­low democ­ra­cies aligned against the prospect of an increasing­ly in­flu­en­tial and mil­i­ta­rized com­mu­nist China.

But the two na­tions have a tor­tured past that in­cludes Ja­pan’s colo­nial oc­cu­pa­tion of the Korean Penin­sula from 1910 to 1945. South Kore­ans still bris­tle at Ja­pan’s treat­ment of the coun­try, first as a colony in the early 20th cen­tury and then dur­ing World War II.

The gov­ern­ment of Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe con­tends Tokyo has long since made repa­ra­tions for its ac­tions and has be­come out­raged over what it sees as an at­tempt by the Moon ad­min­is­tra­tion in Seoul to re­vive his­tor­i­cal griev­ances for do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal gain.

The Ja­pan-based Nikkei Asian Re­view has pointed to the spe­cific is­sue of South Korean court rul­ings since Mr. Moon came to of­fice that have or­dered the Ja­panese com­pa­nies Mit­subishi Heavy In­dus­tries and Nip­pon Steel & Su­mit­omo Me­tal to com­pen­sate the fam­i­lies of South Korean work­ers for un­paid la­bor dur­ing World War II.

Fric­tion over the is­sue es­ca­lated late last year when Tokyo sud­denly ac­cused a South Korean navy de­stroyer of tar­get­ing a Ja­panese air­craft with fire-con­trol radar. The in­ci­dent trig­gered ris­ing ac­ri­mony as well as frus­tra­tion among South Kore­ans that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­peared to have sided with the Abe gov­ern­ment in the clash.

Tokyo moved again this sum­mer by an­nounc­ing trade sanc­tions over what it said were more his­tor­i­cal com­pen­sa­tion de­mands from Seoul, tar­get­ing in par­tic­u­lar ex­ports vi­tal to South Korea’s world-class tech­nol­ogy sec­tor.

The Ja­panese trade curbs in turn have trig­gered an out­burst of anti-Ja­pan sen­ti­ment in South Korea, marked by street protests, can­cel­la­tions of va­ca­tions to Ja­pan and wide­spread boy­cotts of Ja­panese beer, clothes and other prod­ucts.

The most provoca­tive move was Seoul’s Aug. 22 an­nounce­ment that it was aban­don­ing the Gen­eral Se­cu­rity of Mil­i­tary In­for­ma­tion Agree­ment on shar­ing in­tel­li­gence with Tokyo. Mr. Moon ap­proved the move de­spite the cer­tain out­rage it would spark in Wash­ing­ton.

Mr. Cronin sug­gested that Mr. Moon’s move re­flected a grow­ing un­hap­pi­ness in Seoul with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as well, as the eu­pho­ria over the out­reach to North Korea has given way to a diplo­matic slog.

He noted Mr. Trump’s re­peated de­mands that South Korea pay more for the roughly 30,000 U.S. troops sta­tioned in the coun­try. Mr. Trump has also den­i­grated long-stand­ing U.S.-South Korean mil­i­tary drills and given Py­ongyang a pass on tests of short-range mis­siles that can­not reach the U.S. but threaten South Korea di­rectly.

State De­part­ment spokes­woman Mor­gan Orta­gus tweeted that can­cel­ing the in­tel­li­gence ac­cord “will make de­fend­ing [South] Korea more com­pli­cated and in­crease risk to U.S. forces.” U.S. se­cu­rity of­fi­cials are re­port­edly skip­ping the South Korean De­fense Min­istry’s an­nual Seoul De­fense Di­a­logue.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper took an even­handed stance. He told re­porters he was “very dis­ap­pointed that both par­ties are en­gaged in this,” but he also sug­gested that the mat­ter re­mained an in­ter­nal spat that Tokyo and Seoul should re­solve.

Gen. Joseph F. Dun­ford, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ap­peared with Mr. Esper at the Pen­tagon and said the in­tel­li­gence pact’s demise could be over­come from a tac­ti­cal per­spec­tive even if South Korea and Ja­pan re­main at odds.

“We have other ways of shar­ing in­for­ma­tion,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously, none as ef­fec­tive as a very strong bi­lat­eral in­for­ma­tion-shar­ing agree­ment be­tween the two coun­tries, but there are other mech­a­nisms in place to al­low us to deal with al­liance cri­sis or con­tin­gency.”

Mr. Cronin sug­gested that South Korea’s de­fi­ance on the in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing pact with Ja­pan, which U.S. of­fi­cials spent more than two decades try­ing to es­tab­lish, could be re­versed if Wash­ing­ton takes a more sen­si­tive tack with Seoul.

“If that means de-es­ca­lat­ing our de­mands on South Korea for them to share more of the burden for de­fense spend­ing, then so be it …,” he said. “It’s not worth get­ting even a few more bil­lion dol­lars out of our ally if you’re go­ing to break the whole se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture that’s ad­vanc­ing our in­ter­ests and val­ues across the re­gion.”

Key ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials in­clud­ing Ran­dall Schriver, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of de­fense for Indo-Pa­cific se­cu­rity af­fairs, and David Stil­well, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for East Asian and Pa­cific Af­fairs, “are think­ing hard about this,” Mr. Cronin said.

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