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F. Ota: Address to International Leadership Conference 2019

Address to International Leadership Conference 2019, Seoul, Korea, May 15-17, 2019


The Republic of Korea is a peninsula state, and Japan is an island state. Both the Republic of Korea (ROK; also referred to as South Korea) and Japan have poor national resources; their wealth heavily depends on exporting manufactured products. Thus, sea lines of communications are very important. Especially important is the flow of energy resources coming from the Middle East mainly through the South China Sea, where China has been building military bases over reclaimed islands. Those are our threats. Protecting our sea lines of communications is in our national interest and is an opportunity for our cooperation.

At the beginning of this month, the U.S. Department of Defense released the document “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019,” in which a special topic was China in the Arctic. China’s “polar Silk Road” must pass through the Tsushima Strait. The strategic importance of the Tsushima Strait will increase. South Korea controls the western part, and Japan controls the eastern part. Effective control of the Tsushima Strait could not be achieved without coordination between South Korea and Japan. This is another opportunity for cooperation.

Last week, ROK National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang shook hands with Li Zhanshu, chairman of China’s National People’s Congress, to strengthen alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative. However, China used to be interested in Korea’s Geoje Island as an extending eastward port of a “String of Pearls.” The island is across the water from the Chinhae Naval Base, where the Naval Academy of the Republic of Korea is located. Let’s be careful!

At the beginning of the Korean War, North Korea forced South Korea into a corner of Pusan. The UN forces, led by the U.S. Armed Forces, landed at Inchon and expelled the North Korean forces. When you visit the Inchon Landing Operation Museum, you will see that the landing forces originated from Japan. Without Japanese logistic bases, the Inchon Landing Operation would not have materialized.

In 1960, however, then-Japanese Prime Minister Kishi and U.S. Secretary of State Herter exchanged notes that stated, “The use of facilities and areas in Japan as bases for military combat operations to be undertaken from Japan shall be the subjects of prior consultation with the Government of Japan.” Therefore, if the Japanese government says “No,” U.S. Armed Forces in Japan could not deploy to the Korean Peninsula. This is of vital interest to South Korea.

Should a second Korean War happen, North Korea would lay mines along the peninsula, same as in the first Korean War. The minesweeping capability of the Republic of Korea is respectable; however, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force’s (JMSDF) mine warfare capability is evaluated as the best in the world because the JMSDF has swept mines laid during World War II. The JMSDF’s anti-submarine warfare capability against North Korean submarines would be superb. Both present additional cooperation opportunities between South Korea and Japan.

I have discussed cases in which South Korea should request Japanese help. But Japan also needs help from South Korea. There should be a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) during any Korean contingency. Because South Korea and Japan have not exercised NEO yet, I do not think we can conduct effective evacuation during a crisis.

South Korea possesses ballistic missile defense capabilities such as Aegis destroyers and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles. If North Korean or Chinese ballistic missile data would transfer to Japan through a real-time data link, Japanese ballistic missile defense capabilities would improve. Of course, Japan can obtain ballistic missile information from the United States. In April 2012, however, North Korea launched a Taepodong II valiant missile from Tongchang-ri off the west coast, and it failed after launching. A South Korean Aegis destroyer deployed over the Yellow Sea detected the missile. A Japanese Aegis destroyer in the East China Sea did not detect it because the missile failed before entering into the ship’s radar coverage. Therefore, the Japanese government announcement regarding the North Korean missile launch was delayed. If the ROK Aegis and JMSDF Aegis had connected through a real-time data link, this would not have happened.

North Korea launched new short-range ballistic missiles, like the Russian Iskandar, capable of carrying nuclear weapons on May 4 and May 9. This is a clear violation of the UN Security Council Resolution. It will be very difficult to shoot down such a missile by ballistic missile defense systems such as THAAD and PAC-3. The international community must cooperate in the Proliferation Security Initiative for prohibiting North Korea’s proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction.

In addition, the UN’s economic sanctions against North Korea are still in effect. Therefore, UN members should conduct anti-smuggling operations including North Korean ship-to-ship cargo transfers. 

In his Art of War Sun Tzu instructs, “Disrupt the alliances.” China wants to drive a wedge between South Korea and Japan, as well as between South Korea and the United States. We must counter this Chinese strategy.



To go to the May 2019 ILC Schedule page, click here.