Build on shared risk awareness to strengthen security cooperation

A growing sense of urgency over the worsening security environment surrounding each of their countries has been highlighted among the people of both Japan and South Korea. It is hoped that this risk awareness, shared between the two countries’ peoples, will lead to strengthening security cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea.

In a joint survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun and the South Korean newspaper Hankook Ilbo, about 60% of both Japanese and South Korean respondents said they think their country could be attacked by another country in the near future. The percentage of those who thought that China could carry out a military invasion of Taiwan reached 73% in both countries.

Asked about the countries that they feel pose a military threat, with multiple answers allowed, Japanese respondents cited Russia at 90%, followed by China at 87% and North Korea at 84%, while South Korean respondents answered North Korea at 74%, followed by China at 70% and Russia at 46%. All these figures increased from those in a survey two years ago.

To counter China and Russia, 67% of Japanese respondents and 77% of South Korean respondents said they think their countries should work more closely with the United States.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s military buildup, it can be said that a foundation is being established in Japan and South Korea for strengthening cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea, based on shared views of the security situation in East Asia.

In particular, the harsh perception of China in South Korea is noteworthy. This may reflect the fact that Seoul’s economy-oriented policy toward China is changing because, with the growth of Chinese companies, South Korean companies are no longer able to make as much money in China as they used to.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has emphasized values such as freedom and democracy and stressed that South Korea will contribute to the formation of international norms. There are many aspects of these views that Japan can appreciate.

According to the latest survey, 53% of South Korean respondents said the Japan-South Korea relationship will improve in the future, up 24 percentage points from last year, while 35% stated it will remain the same, exceeding the 6% who answered that it will worsen.

This may be because Yoon has repeatedly expressed his desire to improve bilateral relations, raising expectations among South Korean respondents.

On the other hand, in Japan, 61% of respondents said the relationship will remain unchanged. Like last year, this group was the majority. The percentage of those who said the relationship will get better increased from last year, but only to 31%.

Behind the cautious view among Japanese respondents is the fact that past South Korean governments have repeatedly rehashed historical issues between Japan and South Korea, and distrust has become firmly rooted in Japan.

To improve bilateral relations, it is essential for the Yoon administration to propose concrete measures to resolve the issue of wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula. There are deep-rooted opinions in South Korea that his administration should make no concessions on the issue, but it must make a decision from a broad perspective.

With the easing of coronavirus travel restrictions, tourism between Japan and South Korea has moved toward full-fledged resumption. It is also important to expand people-level exchanges through such measures as promoting the appeal of the pop culture of both countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 11, 2022)