June 9, 2022
Seoul – should mend ties with Tokyo to resolve North Korean challenges and the first step is to have Korea-US-Japan military operations, the Heritage Foundation think tank founder Edwin Feulner says.
North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles on Sunday. It was Pyongyang’s 18th armed provocation this year and the most missiles fired in a day. The founder of the US conservative think tank believes strengthening ties among South Korea, the US and Japan is crucial to solving the unending North Korean challenges and provocations.
“The first step is that North Korea has to know that the three — South Korea, the US and Japan — are very serious about the threat that North Korea poses. And that means increased joint training and increased joint operations,” Feulner said in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul last week.
Feulner said he is well aware of the thorny relations between the two Asian neighbors, which has blocked them from moving forward. The two countries’ diplomatic and defense ties have been weighed down by historical issues over the years, including colonization, comfort women and forced labor.
“Korea has suffered very great indignities from Japanese occupation. But, you know, we suffered Pearl Harbor too. We know what indignities are from the Japanese,” he said. “And I’m not saying you can forget them. But we have to look right now and get the three as together as we can.”
The American academic said the two Asian countries need to “find areas where they agree” on and build on those, saying that a military move can be the first, easy step.
In response to the reclusive regime’s repeated missile launches, joint Korea-US and US-Japan exercises are being conducted, respectively, but no Korea-US-Japan joint exercises have been carried out yet.
Japanese media have recently reported that the Japanese government is looking into holding trilateral exercises in response to the North Korean missile launches. On Wednesday, defense chiefs from South Korea, the US and Japan met in Singapore to discuss ways to address North Korea’s provocations. They did not talk about the possibility of joint operations.
The second step to resolve the North Korean issue is to “bring back (US) tactical nuclear weapons” into South Korea to show the North that they are not going to be “the only nuclear power” right here, he said.
Feulner called for more robust deterrence measures between Korea and the US rather than stressing China’s role in deterring the North.
“China wants North Korea to be its lackey. And so they’re going to let North Korea do what they want,” Feulner said.
Last month, China and Russia vetoed the US-drafted resolution to strengthen sanctions in response to the North’s ballistic missile tests at the United Nations Security Council. Also in March, when North Korea launched its alleged Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile, China did not blame North Korea, but instead pointed fingers at the US.
“So the tactical nuclear weapons are a defensive measure to tell North Korea, we’re not fooling around. This is serious. You’ve been fooling around for 20 years. And you know, we’re not going to let this happen,” Feulner said.
In an interview with CNN last month, President Yoon Suk-yeol ruled out the possibility of redeploying tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.
The American expert said that while North Korea is a problem, China is also “a big problem.” He added that China has made no secret that it wants to be a hegemonic world power.
He believes Korea should distance itself from China by seeking alternative markets.
China was Korea’s largest trading partner last year, with a trading volume of $301 billion, followed by $169 billion with the US, $80 billion with Vietnam and $47 billion with Taiwan, according to the Korea International Trade Association.
While the Yoon administration understands the primary relationship with the US is security, it also wants to be “very much (about) economics” with the US, he said.
“And we are a very significant trading partner (although) not as large as China. And the more we do, hopefully, the less China will do, or the more you do with other places like South Asia, which Moon (Jae-in) pushed for, you get out of China,” Feulner said.
Korean companies, too, should look further afield to become less reliant on China, he said.
“But that does not mean the government should be forcing it to happen,” he said, adding companies should do that in their own interest to avoid big political power games and protect intellectual property.
Korea’s move to reduce its economic reliance on China and diversify alternative markets has already been underway. Last month, South Korea joined the US-led economic alliance, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, with 13 participating countries as an initial member. Yoon promised to build a reciprocal supply chain for chips and batteries in the Indo-Pacific region.