South Korea and Japan Think the Unthinkable

Despite South Korea's historical animosity towards Japan, the common threat of North Korea is drawing them together.

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Amiel Ungar, | updated: 13:21

North Korean Flag near Panmunjom
North Korean Flag near Panmunjom


South Korea's relationship with Japan has always been sensitive. After Japan vanquished China in 1895 and Russia in 1904, it became the master of Korea ruling it from 1910-1945. The Japanese occupation brought suffering to Korea. Additionally, Koreans resent Japan's refusal to grant citizenship to Koreans long resident in Japan.

Japanese aid in the form of a reparations agreement was instrumental in transforming South Korea from an agricultural backwater, whose main exports were fish and hairpieces, to the industrial and trading giant that it has become today. However, this was still not considered expiation by the Koreans.

What time and financial assistance have not achieved, North Korea has managed to accomplish. The common threat posed by Pyongyang has led South Korea and Japan to consider the unthinkable of establishing bilateral military ties. This would complete a triangle as both South Korea and Japan are affiliated with the United States in a military pact.

Obviously both sides are proceeding carefully. The first step will be to sign two agreements with cumbersome acronyms –the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA). The former provides for an exchange of intelligence on North Korea, while the latter goes further and envisages the sharing of military supplies and services. The two countries may decide to implement ACSA in peacekeeping roles at first and then expand it later to more sensitive areas.

According to the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun, South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak plans to sign a declaration to reinforce military cooperation when he visits Japan during the first half of this year. This has been denied by South Korean sources.

But there is no denying that Japanese Defense MinisterToshimi Kitazawa is coming next Monday to confer with his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan Jin. During his visit Kitazawa will also visit the border truce village of Panmunjom dividing North and South Korea and a naval base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of Seoul. Here he will view the wreck of the South Korean warship Cheonpon allegedly torpedoed by the North Koreans in March.

According to a Korean business newspaper, a report that the Japanese Foreign Ministry protested and requested to be corrected, Japanese Foreign MinisterForeign Minister Seiji Maeharawas quoted as saying " I hope Japan will form an alliance with South Korea also in the field of security". The logic behind the agreement, according to the newspaper, was that the military provocations by North Korea not only threaten the Korean Peninsula but stability throughout East Asia. The hints demonstrate how far Japanese-South Korean relations have advanced, the denials represent the fear of proceeding too rapidly and too prematurely.