Yoon says Japanese UNC bases deter N. Korean aggression in Liberation Day speech

Posted on : 2023-08-16 17:04 KST Modified on : 2023-08-16 17:36 KST
The unprecedented highlighting of UNC rear bases in Japan is being criticized as opening the path for Japanese military intervention in Korea
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at an event celebrating Korea’s 78th National Liberation Day on Aug. 15 at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. (presidential office pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at an event celebrating Korea’s 78th National Liberation Day on Aug. 15 at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. (presidential office pool photo)

On Tuesday, President Yoon Suk-yeol took the podium and delivered a National Liberation Day speech that emphasized the importance of Japan to South Korea’s national security and economy. Yet in the course of this speech, the president failed to mention the 36 years of Japanese imperialist occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

The speech, which demonstrated an approach to the day marking Korean independence far different from that of previous presidents, built on the address Yoon gave in 2022.

On Tuesday, Yoon argued that Korea and Japan are “partners who share universal values and pursue common interests” and “cooperate on security and the economy.”

This was an upgrade from Yoon’s Liberation Day address last year, in which he called Japan “our partner as we face common threats.”

Yoon mentioned “upholding the spirit of the Kim Dae-jung – Obuchi Declaration” in last year’s speech and described Japan as a “militaristic aggressor of the past” in his commemorative address for the March First Independence Movement this year. For this year’s National Liberation Day address, however, he omitted all such references.

Nowhere did he reaffirm the importance of Japan squarely facing its history. This followed a common thread of Yoon’s diplomacy since taking office, in which the president has sought to strengthen bilateral cooperation between South Korea and Japan by holding six bilateral summits, settling the issue of victims of Japanese forced labor through third-party reparations, and supporting Japanese government’s release of contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The issue is that Yoon is using the North Korean threat to expand the scope of bilateral security cooperation.

“The seven rear bases provided to the United Nations Command (UNC) by the government of Japan serve as the greatest deterrent which keeps the North from invading the South,” Yoon said in his address. “A renewed North Korean invasion will trigger an automatic and immediate intervention and retaliation by the UNC, and the UNC-rear in Japan is sufficiently equipped with necessary land, sea and air capabilities.”

In other words, he sought to highlight the military contributions of the UNC bases in Japan as crucial to South Korea’s security — a claim no Korean president has ever made before.

The “seven rear bases” Yoon referred to point to the four bases on the Japanese mainland — Yokosuka (Navy), Yokota (Air Force), Sasebo (Navy), and Camp Zama (Army) — and three on the island of Okinawa: Kadena (Air Force), Futenma (Marines), and White Beach (Navy).

These bases are tasked with rapidly deploying strategic assets and troops in the event of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula and with evacuating US personnel in South Korea.

Yoon also announced the real-time sharing of North Korean nuclear and missile information with Japan.

“In order to fundamentally block North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, the Republic of Korea, the United States and Japan must closely cooperate on reconnaissance assets and share North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles data in real time,” he announced.

Real-time sharing of North Korean nuclear and missile information among the three countries is a key agenda item for the trilateral summit to be held at Camp David, the US president’s private retreat in Maryland, on Friday.

The real-time sharing of missile warning data was stipulated in a statement jointly issued by the leaders of South Korea, the US and Japan on Nov. 13, 2022, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Yoon concluded his address by stating “the ROK-US-Japan summit to be held at Camp David in three days will set a new milestone in trilateral cooperation contributing to peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Kim Jong-dae, a military expert and visiting professor at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies, read this to mean Korea “plans to pursue a trilateral alliance under the umbrella of the United States.”

Yoon also emphasized his intention to expand the scope of trilateral security cooperation beyond Northeast Asia to the Atlantic and Europe.

“Security of the Korean Peninsula and the Indo-Pacific region is deeply linked to the security in the Atlantic and Europe. Accordingly, strengthening cooperation with NATO is also of great importance,” Yoon stated.

With a security strategy aimed not only at North Korea, but also at China and Russia, it is difficult to rule out the possibility of Korea getting involved in the war in Ukraine or a dispute over the Taiwan Strait.

“What China is most interested in is the military integration of South Korea, the US, and Japan, and President Yoon has publicly declared that he will champion the entrenchment of blocs to complete the structure of confrontation with South Korea, US, Japan vs. North Korea, China, Russia,” argued Kim.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer

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