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Commentary: The emerging threat of ROK’s missiles

  • August 5, 2021
  • , Sankei , p. 5
  • JMH Translation

By Abiru Rui, Sankei editorial writer and member of editorial staff of political section


It will be one year next month since the launch of the Suga administration, but debate on Japan’s possession of the capability to attack an enemy base, which was proposed by former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo to improve Japan’s deterrence, has made no progress.


It is understandable that the government has no time to spare for discussing the matter in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due also to the stubborn resistance of the junior coalition partner Komeito, the Liberal Democratic Party, which prioritizes electoral cooperation with Komeito in the face of the upcoming Lower House election, has not raised its voice on the matter.


But can we really afford to bide our time? When I spoke with a senior government official involved in diplomacy and security the other day, he pointed out that the Japanese media have not reported the significance of the May summit meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.


The official regards as a problem the removal of guidelines that limited South Korea’s missile capabilities. The range of ROK missiles had been limited to 800 km, but with the lifting of this restriction, its missiles can now be of unlimited range. 


The South Korean media reported that for the U.S. the removal of restriction would have the effect of restraining China. However, the senior official explained that “the U.S. did not inform Japan in advance of the elimination of missile guidelines for South Korea. The official went on to say: “Now, South Korea can have missiles of sufficient range to cover the whole of Japan, which does not necessarily mean that Japan and the ROK will immediately go to war, but in diplomacy, the country with more military power has the upper hand. Japan, on the other hand, has not even discussed the possibility of having an enemy-base-attack capability.”


In fact, Lee Jae-myung, governor of South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province and a leading candidate in the country’s presidential election next March, welcomes the removal of the guidelines, saying, “South Korea has been unshackled from the last chain binding its missile development.”


Mr. Lee calls Japan a “military threat” and a “country hostile to South Korea.” The senior official complained that Japanese politicians and the media have too little sense of crisis.


And Mr. Lee is not the only one who regards Japan as an enemy. In the first meeting with then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, whom President Moon served as secretary general, said, “Japan is our hypothetical enemy” and asked the U.S. to keep in step with the ROK to the dismay of the U.S. After that, the Roh administration continued to urge the U.S. to keep in step with South Korea.


Mr. Roh once authorized the Republic of Korea Coast Guard to “fire” on and sink Japan Coast Guard patrol boats in the waters near Takeshima (Okinoshima Town, Shimane Prefecture). It was a situation in which the slightest provocation could have ignited an armed conflict. South Korea is not a country in respect to which Japan can let down its guard just because the ROK is a U.S. ally like Japan.


To begin with, the U.S.-ROK alliance itself has become very unstable. Former U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless, who specializes in East Asian security issues, made the following prediction: “The U.S.-South Korea alliance will end by 2030,” and “if the U.S. withdraws from the security framework with South Korea, Koreans in South Korea and North Korea will unite to take a more overtly hardline stance against Japan than ever before.”


When we think of preparing for contingencies, we generally think of China and North Korea, but we never know what South Korea might do at any moment. During the Tokyo Olympics, the anti-Japanese words and actions of the South Korean athletes and the media in an attempt to undermine Japan’s recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake were intolerable.


The era when Japan can  like an ostrich bury its head in the sand to avoid seeing the danger is long gone. In particular, I want to see the ruling parties take a more down-to-earth approach to politics, taking responsibility for the lives, property, and freedom of the people.

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