Japan’s Expanded Military Role Concerns Xi and Park

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his South Korean counterpart Park Geun Hye expressed concern over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reinterpreting his country’s pacifist constitution to give its military a greater role.

Xi and Park also shared the view that Japan has tried to backtrack on its 1993 apology over wartime sex slavery, Park’s spokesman Min Kyung Wook said by phone. The two leaders met again today after summit talks yesterday in which they opposed the development of nuclear arms on the Korean peninsula.

“Xi is sending an unequivocal message that China and South Korea should together get tough in dealing with Japan’s turn to the right,” Chung Jae Heung, a China analyst at the Seoul-based Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said by phone. “Xi’s also trying to bring South Korea deeper into China’s range of influence by raising their common historical grievances against Japan, which can help China put the brakes on the cooperation among the U.S., Japan and South Korea.”

The strengthening ties between Xi and Park risks complicating the economic and strategic rebalancing to Asia by the U.S., a major ally of both Japan and South Korea. China also seeks to improve relations with President Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the north and newly-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the west, as it hedges against U.S. influence.

Animosity over Japan’s occupation of China and South Korea continues to infuse relations almost 70 years after the end of World War II. It heightened after Abe’s cabinet on July 1 passed a resolution expanding the role of the military to include the defense of allies. The decision was praised by the U.S., which drafted Japan’s pacifist constitution that barred such assistance until now.

Wartime Sex Slaves

China and South Korea will also cooperate to look into the use of women as sex slaves for Japan before and during World War II, Park’s office said in a statement on its website. Xi proposed yesterday that China and South Korea together celebrate the 70th anniversary next year of Japan’s defeat in the war, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said.

“For South Korea and China to work together and unnecessarily try to make history into an international problem is not at all helpful for building regional peace and cooperation,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters today in Tokyo.

A personal rapport between Xi and Park is solidifying ties between the countries that fought against each other during the 1950-53 Korean War. China has been South Korea’s biggest trading partner since 2004, overtaking the U.S. which maintains 28,500 troops in the South. Bilateral trade reached $266 billion last year, up 7.5 percent from 2012.

Tipped Scales

Illustrating the deepening ties between China and South Korea, Xi and Park also agreed yesterday to set up direct won-yuan trading, to conclude free trade talks by the end of this year and begin talks on sea boundaries by 2015.

The Xi-Park summit followed a week of missile launches by North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un has defied U.S. and South Korean demands he roll back his nuclear programs in order to restart six-way talks that stalled in late 2008.

“In the matter of choosing a strategic partner on the Korean peninsula, China has tipped the scales toward South Korea,” said Liu Ming, director of the Korean Peninsula Research Center at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

As one of North Korea’s few allies and its biggest trading partner, China has the leverage to pressure North Korea, which has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006. Xi said yesterday he supports the peaceful unification of the Koreas, while Park called for trust-building with the North before they can unify to pursue economic prosperity.

‘Old Friend’

“Burgeoning economic dependence on China but continuing security dependence on the United States, that is ultimately not sustainable,” Robert Kelly, an international relations professor at Pusan National University in South Korea, said by phone. “That’s the real issue besides North Korea that will dominate South Korean foreign policy for the next 20 years.”

Xi’s visit made him the first Chinese leader to visit Seoul ahead of Pyongyang since China established diplomatic ties with South Korea in 1992.

After Xi, 61, became Communist Party chief in November 2012, the official China News Service said ties with South Korea were entering “a new, honeymoon period.” Xi, who has referred to Park as “an old friend,” sent her a handwritten greeting for her 62nd birthday in February, the People’s Daily reported.

The Xi-Park summit “is an extraordinary milestone, and it should be helpful in promoting needed cooperation on North Korea,” Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, said June 18.

“In contrast to improvements with China, relations between Korea and Japan remain strained,” he said. “There is hard work ahead for both sides. This cannot be done by one party alone. And the hard work is made more difficult by politicization and by the erosion of trust.”

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