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By WU HUAIZHONG | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-08 08:10
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The strengthening of the US-Japan-ROK security triangle will have severe negative impacts on the situation in East Asia

Since March this year, Japan and the Republic of Korea have taken a series of diplomatic actions in an attempt to improve their bilateral ties. Fraught with historical and present disputes, bilateral relations between these two key countries in East Asia have an impact on regional geopolitics. Unfortunately, at least for the time being, the impact is mostly negative, with no contribution to peace and stability in the region.

The leaders of Japan and the ROK have both highlighted or suggested that the world and East Asia are standing at a historical crossroads, regarding China, Russia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as posing challenges or threats to the security of Japan and the ROK. As a result, the main driving force for the "mending" of Japan-ROK ties is for the two countries to "align" and "re-calibrate" their regional security policies.

Usually, improving relations between neighboring countries has positive implications for regional peace and stability. However, the Japanese and ROK governments are pushing for reconciliation by hyping external security threats and even making imaginary enemies, at the expense of triggering tensions with neighboring countries and undermining regional cooperation and integration.

With this approach, Japan and the ROK will undoubtedly find more common ground, which not only provides an excuse for both countries to markedly expand their military capabilities, but also facilitates shifts in their respective security strategies and military policies. In fact, ROK President Yoon Sukyeol has repeatedly mentioned "preemptive strikes" as one of the means to deter the DPRK, which is quite similar to the so-called enemy base attack capability that Japan is aiming to develop.

Going with this trend, the United States-Japan-ROK "security triangle" will lead to radical changes in the security and strategic landscape in Northeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, and a further imbalance in the regional security order, as geopolitical and strategic competition intensifies. The region will be exposed to the risk of being divided into two blocs, which is what the US, Japan and the ROK are working on — splitting the region into a US-Japan-ROK camp on one side, versus China, Russia and the DPRK on the other.

The restructuring of the US-Japan-ROK security relations and stronger measures against China have resulted in severe collateral damage: economic factors, such as supply and industrial chains, are being taken into geopolitical and military security considerations, inevitably suppressing and jeopardizing the China-Japan-ROK economic triangle and regional cooperation.

A stronger US-Japan-ROK security triangle will have severe negative impacts on the regional situation in three major aspects.

First, it will increase tension and instability on the Korean Peninsula. Japan, the ROK and the US have confirmed close cooperation and coordinated policies against the DPRK, which will escalate tensions and have adverse effects on the regional strategic balance.

Looking at the joint statements issued by the three countries' leaders, foreign ministers and defense ministers in recent years, it is evident that the three countries have almost formed a unified stance toward the DPRK. Japan and the ROK have actively responded and participated in large-scale joint military exercises with the US aimed at deterring the DPRK.

Second, Japan, the ROK and the US tend to align and rely on each other in their China policies. The recent joint statements by the defense ministers and foreign ministers of the three countries have repeatedly mentioned the importance of "peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait".

As Japan and the ROK rebuild their ties, there has been a rise in the theory of linked security between the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula, as well as the call for Japan, the ROK and the US to strengthen their collective deterrent power. Yoon Seok-yeol has openly made inappropriate remarks regarding the Taiwan question, which touches upon China's core interests, while Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida advocated issuing a statement on Taiwan at the G7 Hiroshima Summit and the Japan-US-ROK trilateral summit.

Third, Japan, the ROK and the US have shown their shared intention to extend their trilateral security cooperation to broader regions such as the "Indo-Pacific" and Eurasia. The three countries have started to engage and cooperate with NATO and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that brings together the US, Japan, India and Australia.

Both Kishida and Yoon have become the first leaders of Japan and the ROK to attend NATO summits. Japan is actively trying to bring the ROK into the Quad, further enhancing the mechanism's strategic leverage against China. During their meeting, Kishida and Yoon extended a welcome for each other's "Indo-Pacific" visions and agreed to cooperate in building a free and open "Indo-Pacific" region. All these activities are likely to lead to substantial progress in the construction of a US-led alliance, including the Quad and NATO, aimed at containing Russia and countering China.

The author is the deputy director and a researcher of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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