|As the history of inter-Korean conflicts shows, the West Sea has been a powder keg for this divided peninsula. Even more ominous are the recent signs that the Yellow Sea will become a potential flash point of East Asia.
A recent report by Japanese media raised more than a few eyebrows here, saying Tokyo is pushing to send an Aegis destroyer to waters near the West Sea to detect possible missile launches from North Korea. Far more embarrassing is the response of Seoul. On Sunday, a Cheong Wa Dae official said the government would not oppose Japan’s deployment of the state-of-the-art battleship to the body of water between Korea and China.
“It is in the best interest of our national security to perfectly guarantee the freedom of navigation in open waters of the West Sea,” the Yonhap News Agency quoted the official as saying. The remark was the virtual toleration of the existence of a Japanese warship right under Korea’s nose under the pretext of strategic consideration.
True, China’s ambitious naval build-up has forced many Southeast Asian nations to invite the U.S. fleet’s presence as a counterbalance. It was also only recently that Beijing responded angrily to a Korea-U.S. joint naval drill in the wake of North Korea’s provocation against the South.
But allowing the Japanese navy’s appearance in the Yellow Sea is a totally different story, doing far more harm than good in both inter-Korean and regional contexts.
Most of all, the Lee Myung-bak administration’s strategy is feared to fixate on the regional confrontation between the South Korea-U.S.-Japan alliance and that of North Korea, China and Russia. This will all but perpetuate the division of the Korean Peninsula, not least because Japan has long been called the last country that wants to see the two Koreas unified. This is also why the Lee administration’s push to sign military cooperation accords with Japan is neither justifiable nor practical.
Seoul’s approach toward the U.S.-China competition is also in stark contrast to those of other Asian countries. In the Asian defense ministers’ meeting in Singapore last week, most Southeast Asian officials expressed concerns about America stepping up military emphasis in Asia _ a pivot or rebalancing as Washington calls it _ elaborated by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta. “What worries us is having to choose _ we don’t want to be put in that position,” Indonesia’s defense minister said representing the sentiments of his neighbors.
The security and eventual unification of the Korean Peninsula is possible only when the two Koreas, the United States and China sit at the same table.
Military cooperation with Japan is premature for substantive and historical reasons rather than emotional ones. Not only has Japan failed to genuinely repent for its militarist past, it is not yet a reliable partner even in terms of military capacity. Japan showed its limitations in the past two rocket launches by North Korea, by either being oblivious or prematurely making a fuss about nothing.
A century is a not a short time but never long enough to forget who sowed the seed for the division of this peninsula in the first place.