The release of South Korean diplomatic documents from 1981 has revealed South Korean annoyance at Japanese free-riding on the US-ROK alliance during the 1970s and 1980s. The documents detail the ROK’s belief that Japanese security consciousness and burden sharing was insufficient, and that Japan should provide economic assistance in kind to offset the lack of military contribution. Needless to say, this is quite a different attitude from post-democratic reform ROK opinion on Japan’s military posture towards the peninsula.

The Jiji article  (日) draws a straight line from these complaints to Japan’s provision of $4 billion in ODA assistance to the ROK in 1983. There already was an assumption that these kinds of dealings were undertaken in the 1980s, however this is the first direct evidence of the ROK using the pretext of security cooperation and burden sharing to extract concessions from Japan. Motivated by concerns of North Korean and Soviet expansion the Korean Minstry of Foreign Affairs (as it was then known) in September 1981 presented a report titled “Japan’s Posture Towards the US and Prospects for  Trilateral Cooperation on Security” to the Presidential Security Policy Council. The documents are very pointed and say that while the US and the ROK were bearing a significant military burden, Japan was self-involvedly focusing exclusively on economic development, and avoided expressing public concern about the danger on the Korean peninsula. It believed the while likelihood of Japanese consenting to security cooperation was low, the potential for conflict on the Korean peninsula should be unwelcome to Japan, and therefore the ROK could justify requesting economic assistance to offset Japanese ‘free-riding.’

These documents were produced in the context of North Korea firing missiles at an  SR-71 spy plane in August 1981. The Ministry complained that “until now Japan has abstained from assessing North Korea and the Soviet Union as a threat, and should take this as an opportunity to re-evaluate security conditions in North-East Asia.”

It puts into perspective how things have changed over the last 30 years, given that North Korea is threatening to launch a missile rocket, and Japan is threatening to shoot down the rocket missile with its, just a little bit awesome, BMD system.1

1 H/T to Japan Space Policy for the link.


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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
Corey Wallace has 17 post(s) on Asia Security Watch