JAPAN MUST BOLDLY TACKLE IMMINENT THREATS TO ITS SECURITY
On July 1, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced its decision to more strictly control the export of three high-tech materials to South Korea. The items are acyl polyimide used for smartphone displays, “resist” (a sensitized material applied to semiconductor substrate), and hydrogen fluoride.
Viewing its trade control system as well developed and trustworthy, Japan in 2004 elevated South Korea to favored nation status—a “white nation” in METI’s terminology. Given a special comprehensive license, South Korea got an exemption from approval for each contract. Now, Japan no longer regards her neighbor as trustworthy, as I will explain later, and will soon be depriving it of its special status, subjecting it to stricter export control measures.
Seeing the restrictions as an “emotional retaliation” on the part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the liberal daily Asahi Shimbun demanded in its July 3 editorial that they “be retracted immediately.” The daily is wide of the mark, of course. After all, the recent measures are restrictions, not a ban, on the export of strategic items to South Korea for security reasons. Japan simply removed its neighbor from a favored nations list, now treating it as an ordinary nation in the same way as many other countries, including EU members, treat South Korea.
Noting that Japan is a signatory to the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-use Goods and Technologies, which went into effect in 1996, Abe stated:
“The restrictive measures reflect Japan’s commitment to the Arrangement, which calls on each signatory to implement strict trade controls in safeguarding international security. No nation can give its trading partner a preferential treatment if it fails to honor its pledge. The measures Japan is taking are by no means a violation of the rules of the WTO (World Trade Organization).”
On a recent FNN Prime television news show, Katsuhisa Furukawa, a former member of the U.N. Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee, made a stunning revelation:
“Between 2015 and March 2019, the authorities exposed a total of 156 cases of illicit channeling of strategic parts and products imported into South Korea, with 102 of them having to do with weapons of mass destruction.”
Among specific examples Furukawa cited were high performance precision machine tools that can be used to manufacture parts for nuclear warheads and centrifugal machines. Also revealed were a host of cases of illegal re-export of machine tools that are subject to restrictions by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Ziconium worth US$14 million, a coating material for nuclear fuel rods, was also found to have been illegally channeled to China. (NSG is a group of nuclear supplier countries committed to preventing nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.)
Anything on the North’s Behalf
While there were 14 cases of illegal export of strategic goods out of South Korea in 2015, there were 40 each in 2017 and 2018. There has clearly been a rapid increase under the Moon administration, which came to power in May 2017, as more than 30 such cases were exposed in just the first three months of this year. Tokyo has repeatedly urged Seoul to discuss its dubious trade controls, but the Moon administration has refused to cooperate. As Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura recently noted, “It has been extremely difficult to develop communication on this matter with Seoul.”
I recall a curious four-day visit that Moon’s chief of staff Im Jong-sok made to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Lebanon in December 2017, ostensibly to show support for the Korean troops stationed in these countries and strengthen ties with them. But an overseas visit by the chief presidential aid is a highly unusual affair. At the time, Im, a former student activist who is a proponent of Moon’s pro-North policies, was rumored to have plans to covertly contact important North Korean figures in the UAE and Lebanon, which are both pro-Pyongyang. It was a weird visit, with the media unable to pinpoint the details of his activities throughout his trip.
Soon afterwards, on January 1, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year’s address that he was ready to “send a North Korean delegation to the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.” That was the beginning of a drastic change in the situation on the Korean Peninsula. It makes one suspect that by then the South might have pledged to do everything in its power on Pyongyang’s behalf in removing all of the barriers against it in the international community, including rigid economic sanctions.
To date, the Moon administration has deprived the South Korean military of virtually all its power to confront the North effectively. South Korea’s army counter-intelligence units have virtually been disbanded, leaving the South completely defenseless against the North’s operations.
South Korea has advanced Aegis ships and submarines, but these would be unnecessary in coping with a North that is almost devoid of naval power. South Korea once attempted to extend the range of its Hyungmoo-2 short-range (180 miles) ballistic missiles, but the US is known to have objected to the plan on the grounds that it would constitute a threat to Japan. South Korea’s deployment of these weapons would be understandable if it positions Japan as its imaginary adversary. This is the reason why not a few experts in Japan believe the Moon administration regards Japan as South Korea’s real enemy no. 1.
South Korea’s army, currently 600,000 strong, would be a formidable force against Japan if Seoul should become more conciliatory towards Pyongyang, move towards a unification by agreeing to a federal government, and eventually be absorbed by the North. If the North does not give up its nuclear program, a unified Korea would be a nuclear power. As mentioned earlier, South Korea has deployed a number of ballistic missiles and is capable of attacking Japan. But Japan of course does not have nuclear weapons as a deterrence. Nor does it have ballistic missiles to defend itself. How then can we defend ourselves? Against this backdrop, Trump made a series of statements that caught the attention of Japanese concerned about their fragile security scheme.
Japan Cannot Depend on the US Forever
On June 24, Bloomberg News quoted Trump as stating that the US-Japan Security is “too one-sided,” that it promises US aid “if Japan is ever attacked, but doesn’t oblige Japan to come to America’s defense,” and that there “may be a possibility” of scrapping the accord. Then, in a June 26 Fox Business News interview, Trump further stated: “…if Japan is attacked we will fight World War III. We will go in and we will protect them and we will fight with our lives and with our treasure. We will fight at all costs. But (when) we are attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all.…” Asked during a news conference immediately following the G20 summit in Osaka if he was considering pulling the US out of the treaty, Trump replied: “No, I’m not thinking about that at all. I’m just saying that it’s an unfair agreement.”
Realistically speaking, however, a scrapping of the mutual security agreement is impossible in view of the national interests of both parties. And yet Trump must have spoken his mind when he made the series of remarks about the treaty.
What Trump means to say would be this: While American military personnel offer their lives to defend Japan, Japan only offers money to back the US. Trading life for money is an unfair deal; that is what I suspect Trump is saying. Japan must grapple squarely with this point.
Another concerning incident cropped up for Japan on June 13. On the very day Abe was visiting Teheran to help mediate between the US and Iran, a Japanese oil tanker was attacked in the Strait of Hormuz.
Four weeks later, on July 10, three armed vessels of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted to divert the oil tanker British Heritage in the Strait of Hormuz. British Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose issued verbal warnings at gunpoint to the Iranian vessels, which turned away. Shortly afterwards, the British Navy dispatched the destroyer HMS Duncan anew to the Middle East.
While Iran has since consistently denied its involvement, the US has come up with a proposal that there be a coalition of nations to guarantee the security of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. In a nutshell, participating nations are to safeguard their own ships, with the US forces coordinating the whole operation.
The world is rapidly moving towards a new order under which each nation must defend itself basically on its own. This means that there will most likely be a situation in which Japan will need more than just its close ties with the US to survive. How should we safeguard our security? That is the very important question we must answer when we go to the polls next Sunday (July 21) for the upper house election. (The End)
(Translated from Renaissance Japan column no. 861 in the July 25, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)