Toshimitsu Motegi, who took up the post of minister of foreign affairs in the recent cabinet reshuffle, met with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha for the first time. They failed to find common ground on issues concerning South Korea’s wartime requisitioned workers and the removal of each other from their lists of countries subject to preferential treatment for export control. Japan and South Korea should seek a way to find a breakthrough via dialogue rather than taking retaliatory action against each other.
As if laughing at the escalating tensions between Tokyo and Seoul, Pyongyang is moving ahead with increasing the technological sophistication of its nuclear missiles. Japan’s annual defense white paper for fiscal 2019, which was released on Sept. 27, states that North Korea “seems to have achieved the development of smaller nuclear warheads,” a sea change from what was described as a “possibility” in the previous version.
It is difficult to intercept short-range missiles that North Korea has launched in succession since May. There is also analysis that North is making preparations for firing ballistic missiles from a new type of submarine. The security environment surrounding Japan and North Korea is deteriorating.
The Ministry of Defense argues that it makes the presumption that Japan could be the target of a nuclear missile attack, but is it fully prepared? U.S. President Donald Trump does not see [North Korea’s firing] of short-range missiles, which have Japan within range, as a problem, because they are “not long-range missiles.” This should not be overlooked. Japan and the U.S. should equally stay alert.
Japan should share a sense of crisis with South Korea, but defense cooperation and exchange between the two nations have stagnated. The South Korean navy will not take part in a fleet review that the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces will host in October. Concerns are also spreading that South Korea’s opposition to Japanese ships’ flying the “kyokujitsuki” [rising sun flag] and Japan’s disposal of radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are being raised as new points of contention.
We can’t easily conclude that the impact of South Korea’s termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan will be limited. If no action is taken and the pact expires in November, it will become difficult for Japan, the U.S. and South Korea to maintain trilateral cooperation in the seamless sharing of military information, and regional security will be impacted from the mid- to long term.
North Korea called on the U.S. to make concessions by the end of the year, and that deadline is approaching. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration relieved National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was hard on North Korea, and prospects for U.S.-North Korea talks have grown bleaker. China’s military partnership with Russia is emerging as another worrisome element. Japan, the U.S. and South Korea must rush to rebuild their trilateral cooperation.