The poor state of Tokyo’s ties with Seoul were on full display in Japan’s annual defense report released Friday, with the government effectively downgrading South Korea’s status as a top security cooperation partner.
In a chapter explaining Japan’s security cooperation with countries other than its most important ally, the United States, South Korea is mentioned fourth, down from second in the previous white paper, after Australia, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Japanese officials did not publicly state that the change in the order is a lowering of South Korea’s standing, but a Defense Ministry source has said, “In effect, it means a downgrade.”
The report said some “negative” actions by Seoul have affected bilateral defense cooperation such as a South Korean destroyer’s alleged lock-on of its fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane in December. The Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces will continue to call on Seoul to “appropriately deal with these matters,” it said.
The report also mentioned South Korea’s decision in August to withdraw from a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, quoting then-Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya as calling it “extremely regrettable.”
The South Korean Foreign Ministry criticized the report for characterizing a South Korean-controlled group of islets, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, as an inherent part of Japan’s territory. Seoul, which effectively took control of the islets in 1954, demanded the reference be retracted.
However, the ministry statement, issued by a spokesperson, did not address Japan’s apparent downgrade of South Korea’s status as a security cooperation partner in the report.
After South Korea’s Supreme Court last year ordered Japanese firms to pay compensation for wartime labor, despite the signing of a treaty in 1965, bilateral ties nosedived to their lowest ebb in decades, with repercussions now spilling over to the economic front.
The annual report, approved by the Cabinet on Friday, uses many expressions that appeared in Japan’s newest national defense guidelines formulated in December.
As for China, the report expressed concerns over its continuous high-level growth of defense expenditures, rapid advancement of its capabilities in new security fields such as cyberspace, and expansion of military activities in regional waters and airspace.
“The regional and international communities, including Japan, therefore have strong security concerns about” such developments, the report said.
But it also said China is highly expected to “play an active role in a more cooperative manner on regional and global issues.”
On North Korea, the ministry maintained the recognition that its military activities “pose a grave and imminent threat to the security of Japan.”
It said there has been “no essential change in North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities,” and Pyongyang is “assessed to have already miniaturized nuclear weapons to fit ballistic missile warheads.”
Japan also showed a sense of vigilance against Russia’s military activities near Japanese airspace, saying they require “close scrutiny.”
The report said that a joint flight in July by Russian and Chinese bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea suggests Moscow and Beijing have been promoting their military cooperation.
Among domestic issues, the ministry said it “sincerely reflects” on a blunder in its survey that evaluated candidate areas for the planned deployment of the U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense batteries.
To counter the threat of North Korean missiles, the ministry has sought to introduce the Aegis Ashore system in Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures. But the plan has come to a standstill as a geographical survey for the deployment was found to have used erroneous data in May, triggering harsh local backlash.