TOKYO — The agreement between Tokyo and Seoul to set up a defense hotline is raising hopes of a closer security partnership under a new South Korean president who aims to keep historical grievances separate from cooperation in other areas.
Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo confirmed June 3 the establishment of the hotline in the fall, an agreement that came after a year of talks by defense officials. Dedicated phone lines will be installed in both sides’ offices.
Before assuming office in May, South Korean President Moon Jae-in often took a tough stance on Japan. He called for a renegotiation of the 2015 deal on wartime “comfort women” and for an annual review of the General Security of Military Information Agreement.
His election raised concerns about bilateral cooperation on security issues. But Moon has expressed understanding of the need to collaborate on a response to the North Korean threat. In talks this month, the defense chiefs reaffirmed both countries’ commitment to the military information agreement.
This is seen as part of Moon’s two-track approach of temporarily setting aside issues of history and working together elsewhere.
Japan hopes that this arrangement, whose negotiations began under the previous South Korean administration, will put the two neighbors on a path toward greater cooperation.
But obstacles exist to fostering closer ties between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and South Korean military. The two countries have yet to even begin talks on an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement that would authorize logistics support and supplies transfers in an emergency on the Korean peninsula. South Korea has not agreed to let the SDF rescue Japanese nationals there in emergencies.
The South Korean public remains cautious about deepening military ties with Japan. Further improvement in overall bilateral relations will be needed to advance cooperation on the military front.