Japan has claimed that South Korean destroyer, carrying out a humanitarian mission in East Sea to rescue North Korean fishing boat adrift there, threatened Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s P-1 maritime patrol aircraft. They said that destroyer directed the warship’s fire-control radar at the aircraft on December 20th. However, South Korea has refuted the argument and has claimed that the Japanese aircraft threatened the South Korean destroyer by flying at a low altitude. This ‘Japanese patrol aircraft’ conflict has frozen the relationship between South Korea and Japan.
There are three reasons the Japanese government has tried to make an issue of this military affair. First, before the Japanese patrol aircraft conflict arouse, the Japanese government suffered from several unfavorable factors such as the economic statistics fabrication scandal and the recent Kuril Islands return negotiation with Russia. However, after Japan started to make an issue of the Japanese patrol aircraft conflict, the approval ratings for Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has increased because of the rally-round-the-flag effect. The rally-round-the-flag effect indicates people’s tendency to become more supportive of their own government during a foreign-policy crisis. A foreign-policy crisis can ease criticism of the government by increasing patriotism and by creating a diversion from domestic problems. An unpopular leader may have an incentive to initiate an international crisis to rally public support at home. The Japanese government is trying to overcome the low approval rating by causing this crisis.
Second, the main policy goal of the Shinzo Abe cabinet is to make Japan as a conventional country. After the Empire of Japan surrendered and ended World War II, allied forces ordered Japan to enforce the Constitution of Japan that makes Japan formally renounce the sovereign right of belligerency. Due to Japanese Constitution, Japan is still not allowed to have offensive military forces. Thus, it has only self-defense forces. Many conservatives in Japan have grievances against the Constitution of Japan and Shinzo Abe tries to represent the discomforts. However, there are also many Japanese who oppose the policy to make Japan as a normal country. The Japanese government is trying to use diplomatic conflicts, including the Japanese patrol aircraft conflict, to persuade the opposition.
Third, Tokyo’s national security policies have focused on strengthening its national defense against the rise of China and the nuclear threat from North Korea. However, because an increase in military expenditures generally causes a decrease in governmental expenditures to provide public goods, Tokyo should persuade Japanese citizens that Japan faces severe foreign-policy crises and needs to have stronger armed forces. The Japanese government is trying to use the Japanese patrol aircraft conflict as one of evidences to reveal that Japan needs larger military expenditures.
In sum, the Japanese government is using this issue to achieve its domestic political goals rather than to resolve current and potential diplomatic conflicts with South Korea. This implies that if the South Korean government shows the hawkish stance to this issue, it would provide only opportunities to increase public support for the Japanese government’s “normal country” policy and the armament expansion policy for Tokyo. In addition, the aggravation of the relationship between South Korea and Japan will hinder economic and social cooperation between them. Accordingly, it will reduce potential benefits from such cooperation. In this regard, both of the states are generally overlooking them. Thus, Seoul should separate the Japanese patrol aircraft conflict from other issues. Korean Government should search an exit strategy more rationally to avoid Tokyo’s malevolent use of this issue and to resolve this conflict without any side effect.
Woo Jung-moo email@example.com
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