US imperialism losing control of Japan-ROK relations
The escalation of diplomatic tensions between Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) has revealed the rapid transition from the sphere of US-led trade war with China into wider defence and security considerations.
The old order of passive, compliant US allies, is breaking down.
Earlier this year a series of legal challenges lodged in law courts in Seoul resulted in the ruling that some Japanese companies were liable for war-time exploitation of Korean workers; they were subsequently required to pay for what was regarded as 'forced labour'. The legal judgement also rested upon long-held grievances in Korea about the illegal Japanese occupation of their country during the 1910-45 period, where widespread human rights abuses of a horrific nature were commonplace.
The present Japanese government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not take the legal judgement kindly; his administration refused to accept the verdict. Then they retaliated and removed the ROK from a so-called white list of favoured countries which received preferential export treatment. Other factors, however, have to be taken into consideration; behind the scenes the US-led trade war on China was being played-out. The position underpinning the decision taken by Japan raised questions concerning the security of exported products to the ROK, particularly chemical coatings of electronic components used in part-assembly with manufacturing organisations.
The ROK, in recent years, has developed strong diplomatic links with China.
China, likewise, has strong links with the northern DPRK, resulting in a triangular relationship which has been strengthened with the election of President Moon Jae-in in the ROK. The presidential Blue House administration in Seoul have every intention of re-opening trade links with their northern neighbour, and the Kaesong Trade Park which was closed due to US-imposed sanctions on the DPRK.
The decision, by the Abe administration in Tokyo to effectively interrupt manufacturing supply-chains with the ROK and elsewhere, led to an official diplomatic statement issued by Kim You-geun, a national security official for the Moon Jae-in administration. It was noted, diplomatically, that the Japanese decision had been taken 'without presenting clear justifications'. (1) The reference indicated that Japan was questioning the nature of ROK trade links with China; the Trump administration have been seeking to prevent what they regard as sensitive materials and so-called 'dual-use technology' being acquired by China through normal trade relations.
The so-called trade war then rapidly escalated directly into the main defence and security arena with Seoul cancelling an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan. (2)
The escalation of the diplomatic stand-off between Japan and the ROK has direct implications for the US-led Trilateral Security Dialogue (TSD), a three-way centralised defence and security relationship linking the Pentagon with Japan as a northern hub for 'US interests' and Australia as a southern counterpart. Both hubs have the responsibility of maintaining close intelligence-collection roles for the US and developing localised alliances along lines of 'pursuing deeper and broader defence co-operation, including joint exercises, strategic visits, trilateral co-operation with the US and further sharing of defence equipment, science and technology'. (3)
The diplomatic stand-off is particularly embarrassing for the US, coming at a time when the Trump administration wants to resolve problems with the DPRK. They clearly never expected their trade war rhetoric to be played-out in this manner; strategy and tactics were never a strong-point for the administration.
In fact, the bigger picture has revealed the crass ineptitude of Trump and his cohorts:
• US-led regional defence and security provision has rested upon the role of Australia, for example, strategically-placed with the Indian Ocean and Pacific. Sensitive intelligence facilities on Diego Garcia are directly linked to Pine Gap, Central Australia. The same arc connecting the two facilities also swings through similar facilities based on Guam in Micronesia. In recent times both Diego Garcia and Guam have been developed into major logistics hubs for US-led military planning and operations, linked to Darwin Harbour as a support centre (4);
• sensitive US military facilities based in the ROK since the early 1950s form part of the Defence of Japan doctrine; rapid deployment facilities for the defence and security of Japan.
Shortly before the Trump administration began diplomatic initiatives with the DPRK, however, assessments were conducted about the feasibility of moving the US facilities based in the ROK to Guam, as a major shift in regional US foreign policy.
The moves clearly signified US exasperation with the ROK drifting closer into China's sphere of influence. A series of presidential administrations in Seoul have, likewise, shown the ROK is no longer a fully-compliant state existing under US-led tutelage, but a country wanting to defend its own interests and sovereignty. The recent legal decision about forced labour at the hands of Japan during the Second World War is evidence, itself, of the development; the Abe administration allege the legal matter was resolved decades ago when presidential administrations in the Blue House merely rubber-stamped US directives.
Three further important considerations have also arisen:
• the fact the diplomatic note from Kim You-geun also included reference to recent developments 'that caused significant change in the nature of defence co-operation. In such a situation, we have determined it is not in the national interest to maintain the agreement that was signed for the purpose of exchanging sensitive military intelligence', is evidence of just how far the ROK has asserted itself in recent times (5);
• coming so soon after the completion of recent joint US-ROK military exercises off the Korean peninsula has revealed the US losing most of its once tight grip on developments in the ROK. Their influence within the presidential Blue House is waning;
• the mere raising of the possibility that the US were even considering the shift in their foreign policy from the ROK to Guam provided the green light for other players to exploit the US position to their own advantage.
It, therefore, came as no surprise to note within hours of severing crucial intelligence-sharing commitments with Japan, the ROK military began a carefully-planned two-day naval exercise over a group of small islands contested by Japan; the Koreans call the small landmasses Dokdo, while the Japanese refer to them as Takeshima. The exercise included drills with aircraft landings on the islets together with warships manoeuvring nearby.
While Japan's Foreign Ministry stated the islets belonged to Japan and that the drills were 'unacceptable', the ROK navy used the opportunity to note their military planning included similar exercises on the twice-a-year basis. (6)
The naval exercise was intended to send a clear message to Japan about the recent diplomatic stand-off and the fact they were originally planned in June but 'delayed.....in consideration of relations with Japan', reveal how close the US-led trade war with China has come to major regional defence and security considerations. (7)
It should be noted Australia, due to its close relationship with Japan through TSD planning and also as a regional power, stands to get drawn into diplomatic stand-offs like the present one between Japan and the ROK:
We, therefore, need an independent foreign policy before the diplomatic rivalries and stand-offs interrupt manufacturing supply-chains throwing tens of thousands, if not millions of ordinary working people out of their employment, and also escalating into real-war scenarios where the working-class will be expected to fight wars in the name of the defence and security of 'US interests'.
1. Intelligence ties with Tokyo cut by Seoul, Australian, 23 August 2019.
3. Japanese PM set to visit sub war grave, Australian, 13 November 2018.
4. US intensifies military presence in the Indo-Pacific, The Global Times (China), 24 July 2018.
5. Australian, op.cit., 23 August 2019.
6. Kim tests a new 'super-large' multiple rocket launcher, Australian, 26 August 2019.