South Korea and Japan are reluctant to cooperate, but the threat of North Korea (with some assistance from Washington) is driving them together. The Japan Times:
Japan, South Korea and the United States held an unprecedented trilateral missile defense exercise Tuesday, aimed at countering the growing threat from nuclear-armed North Korea, which denounced it as a “military provocation.”
The drill in waters off Hawaii came less than a week after North Korea flight-tested a powerful new medium-range ballistic missile that leader Kim Jong Un hailed as a strike threat to U.S. military bases across the Pacific.
The trilateral exercise included a ballistic target tracking operation to test the Aegis anti-missile systems used by the U.S. and its two key Asian allies.
“While there were no missiles fired, all participants strengthened interoperability, communication channels, data collection and capabilities assessments,” the U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement.
We’ve been watching this story of rapprochement between the East Asian countries for months, as Pyongyang’s renewed belligerence forces Seoul and Tokyo into an uneasy alliance.
China certainly isn’t happy that the U.S. has Japan and South Korea working together, but it partly has itself to blame. Beijing’s unwillingness/inability to keep North Korea in line has left it sidelined. China’s official report to the UN on its efforts to enforce sanctions on North Korea was submitted yesterday, two weeks late. That was actually pretty good for Beijing, which has been known to miss such deadlines by several months. Still, the tardiness attracts a lot of criticism in South Korean media and puts pressure on politicians to distance themselves from Beijing.
Last week, South Korean officials said that existing Patriot missiles are incapable of intercepting North Korea’s latest weapons. So even after these trilateral exercises end, expect more requests for the U.S. to deploy the controversial THAAD system on the Korean peninsula.
Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping urged the U.S. to take China’s concerns about THAAD into more serious consideration yesterday. Both Beijing and Russia say that deployment of the anti-missile system would threaten their security.