David McDonald – East Asia Correspondent
It is likely that South Korea and Japan will slowly improve relations with each other, if future naval exercises between the two countries succeed. The two countries will join the U.S. on an anti-missile exercise, amid North Korean missile tests and continued tensions with China in the East and South China Seas. This exercise is critical because its success will likely lead to further cooperation between South Korea and Japan.
According to IHS Jane’s, South Korea will join Japan and U.S. anti-missile exercises for the first time.[i] The trilateral drills will involve Aegis-equipped ships from each country, but will involve missile detection instead of missile interception drills. The drills will test information dissemination amongst the forces involved and will be an extension of an information sharing agreement they signed in 2014.[ii] The three countries will conduct the exercise in response to recent North Korean missile tests, which violated UN sanctions.[iii] The exercise is considered a stepping stone in improving relations between Japan and South Korea. Although the two countries have coordinated on search and rescue drills in the past, this is the first time they will cooperate in information sharing exercises,[iv] which will occur alongside Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises in Hawaii in July.[v]
Historically, Japan and South Korean relations were strained because of Japan’s previous colonization of the Korean peninsula. Since 2003, leaders of the two countries continue to slowly improve relations through government dialogue and military cooperation. Yet, improving relations remains a slow process because of the continued pain of the past and recent tensions between governments. An example of tensions from 2003 came when policy-maker Taso Aro stated publicly that, during the occupation, Koreans changed their names to Japanese names willingly. Japanese politicians criticized Aro for the comments, which they believed negatively affected Japanese-South Korean relations.[vi]
South Korea’s cooperation in the exercises will likely anger China because of its presence in the South and East China Seas and its tense relationships with the U.S. and Japan. China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, stated that the deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system will make the situation on the Korean Peninsula worse.[vii] Russian analyst Vladimir Yevseyev believes that, as a countermeasure, China could place Russian Kalibr cruise missiles on their diesel submarines. A move that, he believes, could counter the U.S.’ global missile defense system in the Pacific.[viii]
According to retired U.S. Army General Spider Marks, Japan and South Korea are now cooperating in anti-missile exercises because they perceive North Korea as a shared threat. Thomas Karako of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) believes that, if successful, these information sharing exercises will lead to South Korean – Japanese cooperation on more sophisticated exercises in the future.[ix]
Analytic confidence for this assessment is medium. The analyst did not us an analytic technique for this analysis. Source reliability is medium with no conflict among sources and information from the past month. The analyst’s expertise on the topic is minimal. The analyst worked alone for this analysis. The task complexity was moderately complex and the time constraint was sufficient.
[i] South Korea ‘to join the U.S.-Japan missile defense exercise’ 18 May 2016 (accessed through Jane’s): “South Korea will join the United States and Japan in a joint anti-missile naval exercise in late June, a source in South Korea’s defense ministry told IHS Jane’s on 17 May on condition of anonymity. Seoul’s decision comes amid growing provocations from the communist regime in North Korea, which has recently engaged in a series of demonstrations of military might, including a fourth nuclear test in January and the launch of a long-range rocket the following month. If confirmed, this will be the first time South Korea joins the US-Japan missile defense drill, which this year is set to involve an Aegis warship from each country that will simulate detecting, tracking, and shooting down ballistic missiles.” (high)