Tense Relations Korea’s, China, ROK – Japan, Differences ROK – the United States
North-East Asia comprising of China, the two Korea’s Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea &Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan with the United States having a significant armed presence in the region have potential zones of tensions.
Accumulated issues over the years has led to recent rise in not only the traditional rivals as Japan and China or the United States and North Korea but also strategic treaty allies United States and South Korea and the latter and Japan.
Here is a review of the main dyads or triads of conflict-
North Korea and the U.S.
North Korea and U.S. have been stuck in a logjam over restarting of talks on denuclearization which have failed to take off despite two and a half Summit between the American President Donald Trump and the North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un. Blame it on the brinkmanship at play or hardliners in the United States despite high profile National Security Adviser John Bolton having moved out from the chair a breakthrough in the impasse is not evident.
While the United States and South Korea agreed to postpone a joint military exercise with a view to appease the North to begin talks for which a deadline of end of the year has been set by Pyongyang, this was not enough claimed senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol who called for cancellation of the same. The act of goodwill declared jointly by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and his South Korean counterpart of postponing indefinitely annual Vigilant Ace training may thus go in vain. Quite clearly if the U.S. does want to commence the stalled talks, a firm declaration of cancellation may be necessary, but that may be seen as ceding too much space to Pyongyang.
Clearly there is no light at the end of the tunnel here.
Japan and South Korea
South Korea has threatened to renege from the bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan which expires on 23 November. Information sharing assumes importance given the missile threat from the North.
The South Korean response was due to the prevailing spat over export restrictions imposed by Japan in August which in turn is seen as a retaliation to South Korean Supreme Court rulings in 2018 ordering Japan to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
Seen as an erosion of strategic trust, South Korea deems that under these circumstances the GSOMIA is not relevant.
U.S. – South Korea – Strategic Treaty Allies
Importantly the U.S. frustrated with a likely breakdown of a crucial intelligence sharing agreement between Japan and South Korea has openly blamed Seoul for the deteriorating situation and even suggested that this will impact its obligation for defence assistance.
United States Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris openly came out against the move by Seoul as repeated appeals by U.S. envoys failed to make an impression in Seoul.
“Korea elevated it into the security realm and that security realm affects us. So, now it affects the U.S. and our ability to defend Korea, and puts our troops at risk … so that is why we reacted quickly and strongly in expressing disappointment at Seoul’s decision,” Harris remarked in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency.
Almost on the same day talks between the United States and South Korea on sharing of costs for hosting U.S. troops by Seoul broke down with the U.S. representative walking out of the same.
“Unfortunately, the proposals that were put forward by the Korean team were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden sharing,” James DeHart of the U.S. State Department told local media after the talks ended.” As a result, we cut short our participation in the talks today in order to give the Korean side some time to reconsider and, I hope, to put forward new proposals that would enable both sides to work towards a mutually acceptable agreement,” he said.
“We look forward to resuming our negotiations when the Korean side is ready to work on the basis of partnership on the basis of mutual trust.” South Korean parliamentarians have refused to ratify any agreement that the government reaches with the Americans that leads to excessive demands from Seoul.
Meanwhile with the withdrawal of the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, China has warned Japan and South Korea on allowing deployment of U.S. intermediate-range missiles a proposal posed by the U.S. President Donald Trump.
While multiple differences that have emerged are unlikely to be conflate in any possible situation of armed confrontation the situation will remain tense and in turn impact not only geo-politics but also geo-economics involving four of the worlds top economies jostling with each other.