10/12/2022, 15.32
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South Korea’s Democratic Party accuses President Yoon of collaboration with Japan

by Guido Alberto Casanova

South Korea’s foreign policy intrudes directly into its domestic politics. The opposition slams the government for holding joint military exercises with the United States and Japan, accusing the conservative government of favouring Japan’s return to the peninsula. The interim leader of the conservative People Power Party counterattacked saying that the opposition’s statements echo those of North Korea.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – While North Korea was conducting a series of missile tests, South Korea tried to improve its deterrence capability and boost military partnerships with its allies through joint naval exercises last week with its traditional US ally as well as Japan.

“[O]ur military is focusing on strengthening capabilities to respond to North Korea's missile and nuclear threats," said General Kim Seung-kyum, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Democratic Party (DP), now in opposition, did not see it that way and slammed South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol for collaborating with Japan.

Some DP officials, including party president Lee Jae-myung, accuse the South Korean military and government of fuelling tensions, claiming that the joint response with the US and Japanese military, the first in five years, was excessively aggressive.

However, by describing the joint exercise a "defence disaster”, he  inflamed the political debate. On Monday, he upped the ante during a live broadcast on YouTube, accusing the Yoon government of being "pro-Japan" using a derogatory term usually reserved for Koreans who collaborated with Japan during its occupation of Korea (1910-1945).

"It feels like stepping stones are being laid one by one toward (forming) a military alliance of South Korea, the US and Japan," Lee said during the live broadcast.

Any alliance with Japan is extremely unpopular in South Korea, given the widespread distrust of its erstwhile occupier.

The DP leader warned that Japanese troops could be deployed on the peninsula in an emergency. In his view, joint exercises implicitly recognise the legitimacy of the Japanese Navy.

Under Japan’s post-Second World War pacifist constitution, the country cannot possess armed forces and those that currently exist are technically a self-defence force, even though they operate as a regular military.

Lee’s “fears” are clearly a political expedient, considering that the last joint exercise between the three countries took place in 2017 when the Democratic Party was in power with President Moon Jae-in.

The government immediately lashed out at Lee for his remarks. The President’s Office noted that the most serious threat facing the region is North Korea's nuclear and missile program, not Japan.

A counterattack by Chung Jin-suk, interim leader of the president’s party, the conservative-oriented People Power Party, was not long in coming. Mocking Lee, Chung said that the DP leader’s remarks echo Kim Jong-un's hostility to US-Japanese-South Korean cooperation.

Seeking to brand the DP’s use of anti-Japanese sentiments as a pro-North Korea position, Chung noted that the idea that the Japan would deploy its forces in Korea is as absurd as the North Korea's promise to give up its nuclear programme.

“I hope he won't blind the people with a frivolous take on history,” Chung said.

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