Ripe for Reinvigoration: The Japan-South Korea Security Relationship

Posted on Friday, February 26, 2016 by Project2049Institute

(Image Source: Yonhap/Reuters)

By Samuel J. Mun

North Korea’s recent provocations and saber-rattling highlight the importance of Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) security cooperation once again. Over the past two months, North Korea detonated a nuclear bomb, tested ballistic missile technology, and threatened South Korea and the United States with a preemptive military strike. These developments, combined with a Japan-ROK political resolution and China’s reluctance to censure North Korea, have created an opening for Japan and South Korea to strengthen their ties and stabilize the Northeast Asian security landscape.

Six months ago, there was speculation that South Korea was gravitating into China’s “orbit” and away from Japan. Many worried when President Park Geun-hye attended a military parade in Beijing as part of her effort to encourage China to exert leverage against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, relations between Japan and South Korea continued to suffer as politicized disputes over “comfort women” impeded any significant progress in improving their strained ties.

Today, Seoul interacts with Beijing and Tokyo in a different context. Last December, Japan and South Korea reached a historic agreement to resolve the “comfort women” issue, thus creating space for the two countries to improve security ties. Not long after, Seoul’s relations with Beijing chilled when China chose not to exercise its leverage over North Korea in wake of North Korea’s detonation of a nuclear bomb. As an indicator of China’s reluctance to lend a hand, Xi Jinping apparently refused to take a phone call from Park for a month after the test. Weeks later, North Korea performed a rocket launch in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, after which China protested South Korea’s decision to enter discussions with the United States to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense platform to counter North Korean missiles.

South Korea is recalibrating its approach toward North Korea and now knows that China will not help the situation. It is turning to Japan as a reliable partner in this precarious security climate. Solidarity between Japan and South Korea was on display on February 10 when the respective military chiefs from the U.S., Japan, and South Korea agreed to “firmly respond to the [North Korean] acts utilizing trilateral information sharing” and “coordinate further on mutual security issues to enhance peace and stability in the region.” Less than a week later, President Park delivered a stern, nationally televised speech where she warned of North Korean collapse if North Korea continues its nuclear ambitions. As South Korea prepares for an end-game scenario in North Korea, Japan and South Korea are ideal partners for addressing the security and humanitarian challenges in such a contingency.

The maritime sphere is an excellent area for Japan and South Korea to forge these ties. Cooperation among the U.S. Navy (USN), Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) in areas such as ballistic missile defense, mine-countermeasures, and anti-submarine warfare can help deter, and if necessary, defeat North Korea in wartime. JMSDF-ROKN coordination would also complement U.S. military operations in contingencies related to the Korean peninsula, buttress humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) operations in the event of North Korean collapse, and send a clear message to the region that they remain steadfast in standing up to North Korean aggression.

JMSDF-ROKN cooperation could lend opportunities for Japan and South Korea to coordinate with the U.S. Navy trilaterally in areas such as HADR, anti-piracy, and the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. The free flow of trade in the South China Sea (SCS) is equally vital to Japan and South Korea, and a coordinated approach with the United States in the SCS would add resistance against China’s destabilizing activity in the region.

Now is an opportune moment to also consider revisiting the possible formulation of a Japan-ROK General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). The two countries were on the verge of signing a GSOMIA in 2012, but the hasty rollout of this agreement to the ROK National Assembly and public led to its collapse. The signing of a U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral information sharing agreement in 2014 was a step in the right direction, but a Japan-ROK GSOMIA would remove the United States as an intermediary and streamline the exchange of North Korea-related intelligence between Japan and South Korea.

As North Korea continues to refine its nuclear technology and missile capabilities, the time for Japan and South Korea to reinvigorate their security ties is overdue. The Japan-ROK relationship is a largely untapped resource that would bolster U.S., Japanese, and South Korean posture towards North Korea and the region at large. There should be no time wasted in harnessing the enormous potential of the Japan-ROK relationship.

This article was published in The Diplomat on February 27, 2016.  

Chinese Political Warfare After Taiwan's Elections: Tsai's Victory

Posted on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 by Project2049Institute

This is the first in a series of blog posts entitled “Chinese Political Warfare After Taiwan's Elections."

(Image Source: Alison Bartel at KMT rally in Taipei)

By Alison Bartel

DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen won the ROC (Republic of China, hereafter referred to as Taiwan) presidential elections on January 16, 2016 by a decisive margin. The election of a DPP leader has played into the CCP's fears of a more pro-independence populous in Taiwan.  Chinese leaders have historically employed coercive tactics in order to set the stage for reunification. As one of China’s primary “core interests,” the elections are likely to generate outbursts of more aggressive political warfare tactics if China perceives Taiwan as veering away from its desired course. As the Project 2049 Institute outlined in a previous report:

Political warfare seeks to influence emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals in a manner favorable to one’s own political-military objectives.

Through interviews with DPP leaders, scholars, journalists, and academics on potential election outcome implications for the PRC (People’s Republic of China, hereafter referred to as China), this post serves to assess the PRC's future strategy to exert influence over Taiwan. The interviews indicate that China’s overall strategy will not change in response to the DPP victory itself, but instead will change as a function of fundamental shifts in demographics and political and cultural identity on the island.

China’s use of influence operations towards Taiwan has previously targeted those in political power (both KMT and DPP) and business tycoons, primarily by using economic leverages to wield its power. Taiwan and China are more economically interconnected than ever before, and in the short term, cross-Strait economic relations are unlikely to change significantly. China is a behemoth economy that has gone out of its way to bestow benefits on Taiwan’s businessmen (
台商) and their new generation counterparts for both economic and political reasons. The Chinese market is in turn beneficial to Taiwan’s economy. But China’s recent stock market instability and the government’s response have made investors wary of its shortcomings. Furthermore, the race to the bottom (and growing potential of the TPP) could lead investors to diversify to Southeast Asian nations.

Though the two cultures are intertwined, the "One China" principle the PRC touts abroad further diverges from the reality of two separate societies and governments. As the old KMT order dies out, decades of independent governance and society have built a stronger Taiwanese national identity. President Tsai’s election is Taiwan’s third peaceful transition of power and it further solidifies Taiwan’s democratic political system. These trends imply that both of China’s traditional outlets of economic and cultural leverage are threatened in the long term. China's strategy will therefore gradually shift from targeting political and business heavyweights to Taiwanese youth, while incorporating more cultural leverage in the long term.

The success of Taiwan’s most recent elections was a milestone for democracy in the Asia-Pacific region. But China’s recent actions threaten to erode democracy and the rights that it embodies. The rise in bellicosity of China’s hard-line factions and divergence from mainstream rhetoric and policy should be monitored for potential rifts in China’s domestic politics. For example, coercive action behind Taiwanese K-pop star Chou Tzu-Yu’s apology and affirmation of the One China Principle on the eve of Taiwan’s presidential elections reveals China’s use of economic and cultural coercion that diverges from its seemingly warm language during the Ma-Xi meeting in November. In President Tsai’s victory speech, she notes that the PRC’s recent actions “will serve as a constant reminder to me about the importance of our country's strength and unity to those outside our borders.” While building a “consistent, predictable, and sustainable cross-strait relationship,” Tsai’s administration should also be aware of changes in China’s political warfare strategy towards Taiwan. This series on deciphering China’s cross-Strait messaging strategies will identify cultural and economic areas to monitor for indications of changes in China’s perception management tactics on Taiwan.

Mark Stokes and Russell Hsiao, “The People’s Liberation Army General Political Department: Political Warfare with Chinese Characteristics.” Project 2049 Institute Occasional Paper, October 14, 2013, at

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