President Moon

Tim Shorrock reports in The Nation;

A bitter dispute between South Korea and Japan over compensation for Korean victims of Japan’s war crimes escalated last week when Seoul announced that it would terminate a 2016 bilateral agreement with Tokyo to share classified military intelligence. The unprecedented move drew howls of outrage from US officials and analysts that were reflected in a Washington Post headline stating that the decision “was a blow to US security interests.”

But for South Korean president Moon Jae-In, the move is a declaration of independence from a U.S.-brokered alliance with Japan. Moon, who is trying to coax North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il and President Trump into a denuclearization deal, is asserting national pride over long-standing security agreements that ignore Korean interests.

Moon’s move was supported by Yoo Kang-moon, an analyst for Hankyoreh, a leading Seoul daily.

After Donald Trump became president of the US, American leadership dried up. Trump’s emphasis on “America first” caused the value of alliances in many parts of the world to plummet. Rather than complimenting the South Korea-US alliance, Trump has grumbled about the money being spent on maintaining the American troop presence there and on carrying out joint military exercises. Trump has disregarded Japan’s attempt to revise its “peace constitution” and its movement down the road toward militarism. Japan’s military expansion recalls its history of aggression, which cannot coexist with friendly relations with South Korea. At the very least, there are already indications that trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, Japan, and the US is coming undone.

The howls of protest from the hawks of Washington and Japan come from the same sources who worry about Moon’s steadfast denuclearization diplomacy. They want to maintain the status quo in northwest Asia, while Moon recognizes that dependence on the United States during the reign of Trump is risky.

South Korea seeks to build a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula by improving inter-Korean relations and through cooperation with China and the US. Japan seeks to join the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy, aimed at containing China, while throwing off the shackles of its peace constitution and becoming a military power. South Korea-Japan relations have been stranded in that process, and their exact coordinates remain unknown.

South Korea standing up for itself isn’t a bad thing.