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EDITORIAL | After Camp David Summit, Seoul Must Address Anti-Japan Policies

Anti-Japanese sentiment is easily aroused in South Korea. It would work against the Camp David summit agreement to bring security cooperation to "new heights."



Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, US President Joe Biden, and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol are all smiles during their meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington DC. (© AP via Kyodo)

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, United States President Joe Biden, and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol recently gathered for a summit at Camp David, the presidential retreat on the outskirts of Washington DC.

The joint statement issued after the trilateral summit declared that the three leaders had come together "to inaugurate a new era of trilateral partnership." It also promised to raise trilateral security cooperation "to new heights."

The meeting of the three leaders will bolster security cooperation among Japan, the United States, and South Korea. It will help ensure regional peace and stability, and deserves high marks. 

Addressing the Needs of Our Time

The leaders agreed that ministers responsible for foreign affairs and defense from the three nations would meet annually. But, in the event of an emergency, they would consult with each other immediately. 

Moreover, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces will soon start engaging in joint training with US and South Korean forces in multiple domains, including land, sea, and air. Japan and South Korea will also immediately share information on North Korean missile launches. The three countries also agreed to cooperate in terms of assistance to Ukraine and resolving the North Korean abductions issue. 

During the joint press conference, Prime Minister Kishida warned that "the free and open international order based on the rule of law is at stake." To support his view, Kishida cited Russia's aggression against Ukraine and China's unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and South China Sea. He also referred to the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles.

Prime Minister Kishida concludes the Japan-US-South Korea Summit and participates in a joint press conference on August 18 at Camp David, near Washington, DC. (© Kyodo)

Kishida added, "It is inevitable for us to develop the potential within the trilateral strategic partnership joining Japan, the US, and South Korea in accordance with the needs of our time." 

We concur with the sense of crisis expressed by the Prime Minister. 

Taiwan and China

North Korea is rushing to develop new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), ballistic missiles with irregular trajectories, and tactical nuclear weapons for its military forces. Furthermore, Pyongyang has repeatedly launched ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. 

Therefore, it makes sense for Japan, the US, and South Korea to strengthen deterrence through joint exercises and enhance their ability to cope with threats through information sharing.


Also notable was the solidarity displayed by the summit participants concerning China. The joint statement said the three nations "firmly oppose" China's attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the waters of the Indo-Pacific region. It also specifically called out Beijing's "dangerous and aggressive behavior" in the South China Sea.

In addition, the statement reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an "indispensable element of security and prosperity in the international community."

It is true that when Moon Jae In was president, South Korea similarly agreed on the "importance of peace and security in the Taiwan Strait." However, that statement lacked significance because of the lack of bilateral trust in the area of security prevailing at the time. 

Facing Multiple Threats Together

The Yoon administration has given greater priority to the United States and Japan than ties with China. Therefore, the issue of Taiwan was on the agenda for discussion at the trilateral summit.

Collectively, the United States, Japan, and South Korea account for roughly one-third of global GDP. The countries have a combined population of roughly 500 million.  

Japan and South Korea do not have a joint security arrangement. However, if they join with the United States in strengthening their defense cooperation, we can expect to see enhanced deterrence and diplomatic clout for the three countries. This will help greatly in dealing with the dictatorships in China, Russia, and North Korea. 

In the event of a Taiwan crisis, South Korea's cooperation would be essential to prevent North Korean provocations and outbursts. Meanwhile, should a crisis develop on the Korean Peninsula, Japan's cooperation would be imperative. 

Prime Minister Kishida, President Biden, and President Yoon Suk-yeol hold a joint press conference after the Japan-US-South Korea summit at Camp David on August 18. (© Kyodo)

During a speech on August 15, President Yoon mentioned that the rear headquarters and designated bases for the forces of the United Nations Command, a military force established to support South Korea, are located in Japan. He added that these were the largest deterrent to Pyongyang's invasion of South Korea. That is certainly true.

Oscillating South Korean Policies

Japan, the United States, and South Korea now need to translate their agreement at Camp David into tangible cooperation. But concerns remain.

Anti-Japanese sentiment is easily aroused in South Korea. And official policy has oscillated drastically with changes in government. If the leftist opposition should return to power, Japan-South Korea ties will likely revert to how they were under the preceding Moon administration. Relations during that period were characterized as the "worst bilateral relationship during the postwar era." That would mean in turn that dreams of "new heights" will be scattered to the wind. We should not forget that risk.

Time to Solve the Radar Issue 

For example, the issue of the radar lock-on of Self-Defense Force patrol aircraft by the fire control radar of a South Korean Navy destroyer in 2018 has not yet been resolved. 


It was a dangerous hostile act normally only taken in preparation for an attack on a target with a missile or other weapon. South Korea still does not acknowledge the facts regarding the incident. Nor has it offered an apology. It is hard to trust the South Korean government and especially the military if they refuse to correct their mistakes.

If Seoul takes action in line with the agreement reached at Camp David, South Korea will establish a stronger presence not only on the Korean peninsula but also in the Indo-Pacific region and the wider world. We could well see the emergence of a major new actor in international politics. 

This frame is from a video of the fire-control radar irradiation by the South Korean Navy destroyer, taken on December 20, 2018. (Provided by the Ministry of Defense)

But that will require South Korea to address anti-Japanese policies as reflected in such things as the radar lock-on incident.

Furthermore, the summit did not adequately tackle nuclear issues. Regarding the defense of Japan and South Korea, the statement did say that the US reaffirmed its extended defense commitments backed by the full range of its capabilities, including nuclear deterrents. That was all good, but it was unfortunate that there was no mention of efforts to improve the reliability of nuclear deterrence itself.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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