James Jay Carafano
With aggressive actions and rhetoric from North Korea and increasing tensions with China over Taiwan, uncertainty remains over the character of the new administrations in Tokyo and Seoul. One of the biggest questions being asked about Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, both by outside observers and in the halls of government in the capital is simply: ”What does he want?”
We asked regional security expert Bruce Klingner to give us a rundown.
What’s you bottom line? On the foreign/security side, both Kishida and South Korean President Yoon’s policies have been quite good. Both are more open about burden sharing and realistic about regional threats.
What’s you assessment? In Japan, the three national security documents released in December were stunning in their expansiveness of SDF missions and capabilities. Japan announcing policies of counter-strike capabilities and advocating two percent of GDP to defense spending were unimaginable a year or two ago. Beyond those headline grabbing items, Japan will take steps to improve sustainability/readiness and implement joint headquarters to resolve stove-piping. Have also stated it wants more coordinated/consolidated command structure with the US, overcoming longstanding internal resistance.
The Japanese documents, as well as joint statements with US, are much bolder than those of South Korea in articulating the China threat and measures to confront it. President Yoon also has great policies but retains the Republic of Korea’s timidity in criticizing Beijing. Yoon, however, has been much bolder in confronting North Korea than the previous government. The South Korea foreign minister recently described North Korea as ‘a clear and present danger.”
Both Japan and South Korea have made overtures to improve bilateral relations. Seoul announced its plan for resolving the lingering dispute with Japan over compensating South Koreans forced to labor for Japanese companies during the 1910-45 occupation. If successful, it would facilitate bilateral reconciliation and remove a major impediment to U.S. efforts to enhance trilateral security cooperation against common North Korean and Chinese security threats.