Gently, but firmly, the new commander of US forces in the Pacific has urged the South Koreans and Japanese to find a way to get past the demons of their history to forge a new and productive security posture.
Commander of the US Pacific Command Admiral Samuel Locklear, who assumed command in March, encouraged the governments in Seoul and Tokyo “to find a way past the political divide that stops them from recognizing the importance of information-sharing as it relates to the security environment.”
In an interview with several US reporters the admiral said he and Pacific Command should ensure that the South Korean and Japanese governments, both treaty allies of the US, “are aware of the military imperative of information sharing and working together if you want to build a productive security environment.”
Locklear had been asked what he and the US Pacific Command could do about the longstanding Korean-Japanese hostility that made relations between the two perhaps the weakest link in the US’ security stance in Asia. Earlier this month, the South Korean and Japanese governments negotiated an agreement to exchange information on issues such as the threat from North Korea. However, just before the pact was to be signed, virulent anti-Japanese protests erupted in Seoul and the signing was called off.
The bad blood between Korea and Japan is often attributed to the latter’s oppressive occupation of the former for 35 years, which ended with Japan’s surrender in World War II in 1945. However, the antagonism seems deeper than that. Now, 67 years later, anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea appears to be stronger than fear of North Korea.
South Koreans seem envious of Japan’s economic, industrial and technological success and in schools, museums and historical sites, antagonism against Japan is relentlessly nurtured.
For their part, Japanese often seem insensitive to South Korean laments and have sometimes engaged in what can only be labeled clumsy diplomacy. Occasionally, right-wingers and nationalists contend that Korea benefited from Japanese rule and justify Japan’s imperial expansion as normal for that era of Western colonialism in Asia.
Some Americans with experience in Asia say that the US should insist that Japan and South Korea settle their differences for the sake of mutual security.
Michael McDevitt, a retired rear admiral, wrote several years ago that “the United States has invested little effort over the past decade in pressing both of its allies to overcome the past.”
Admiral Locklear sought to be optimistic: “I think we are seeing opportunities for them [South Korea and Japan] to be more closely aligned with each other. To some degree, economics will push them closer together. Security issues in the region will push them closer together. Many [in both nations] are concerned about North Korea and nuclear proliferation.”
For more than a decade, North Korea has been developing nuclear arms and has shown no sign of stopping.
Those nuclear weapons “will force them to get closer together,” the admiral said.
In addition, China and Russia have nuclear weapons aimed at Northeast Asia. The US has pledged to South Korea and Japan that the US nuclear umbrella extends over both nations. North Korea has also been attempting to develop long- range missiles to carry nuclear warheads.