Japan’s 2019 Defense White Paper hints at deploying jets in event of clash in Dokdo airspace

Posted on : 2019-09-30 18:46 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
S. Korea’s Foreign and Defense Ministries protest threat to sovereign Korean territory
A map in Japan’s 2019 Defense White Paper identifies Dokdo (circled in red) as Japanese territory.
A map in Japan’s 2019 Defense White Paper identifies Dokdo (circled in red) as Japanese territory.

On Sept. 27, the Japanese cabinet took the controversial step of approving a defense white paper on that hints that Japanese jet fighters might be scrambled in the event of a clash in South Korean airspace over Dokdo. Some analysts think that the passage in question is designed to give more legitimacy to Japan’s territorial claims to Dokdo, the South Korean island called Takeshima in Japan. South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Ministry of National Defense (MND) immediately protested the relevant section of the white paper and promised to respond firmly to any provocation by the Japanese government over Dokdo.

In the 2019 Defense White Paper that was confirmed on Friday, Japan’s Defense Ministry once again claimed that Dokdo is Japan’s sovereign territory, the 15th consecutive year it has made such a claim. While describing warning shots that South Korean aircraft fired when Russian bombers made an incursion into South Korean air space near Dokdo in July, the white paper advanced Japan’s territorial claim to the island.

“Through diplomatic channels, we lodged a protest with the Russian government for violating our air space and with the South Korean government for firing warning shots at the Russian aircraft,” the white paper said. In a section about measures that Japan had taken against violations of its sovereignty, this incident was listed alongside an occasion when fighters from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) had been scrambled against Chinese and Russian military aircraft. The implication is that Japanese fighters could also be scrambled if a clash occurred in the air space above Dokdo.

By printing Japan’s “military action” of scrambling JASDF fighters in territorial disputes with China, such as at the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu Islands in Japan), alongside a “diplomatic protest” over Dokdo, which is effectively controlled by South Korea, some see Japan as trying to steadily intensify its territorial claim to Dokdo. According to this analysis, Japan is laying the groundwork for future measures aimed at altering the status quo, such as scrambling JASDF fighters, as part of its campaign to make other countries treat Dokdo as disputed territory.

MOFA and the MND responded to the Japanese white paper’s territorial claim to Dokdo by calling in diplomats from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in protest.

Lee Sang-ryeol, acting director-general of MOFA’s Bureau of Asia and Pacific Affairs, summoned Taisuke Mibae, the minister for political affairs at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, to MOFA, where Lee protested the territorial claim and called for its immediate retraction.

Lee Won-ik, director-general of the MND’s international policy bureau, summoned Tatsuya Watanabe, a Japanese defense attaché and a captain with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, to the MND. During their meeting, the MND reported, Lee asked Watanabe to immediately correct one-sided claims in its white paper, including sections about Dokdo, an incident involving a targeting radar, and South Korea’s decision to terminate its GSOMIA intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, and sternly urged Japan to refrain from such behavior in the future.

On a related topic, Japan’s white paper stated that “North Korea appears to have succeeded at developing miniaturizing nuclear warheads.” That expressed more certainty than last year’s white paper, which had merely raised the possibility of such a development.

In a section describing security cooperation with countries other than the US, the white paper listed South Korea fourth, after Australia, India and Sri Lanka, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In last year’s white paper, South Korea came second, after Australia. This represents a downgrade in South Korea’s status for strategic cooperation.

The white paper’s overall description of South Korea is also unfavorable: “A number of recent developments, including South Korea’s negative response to the flag of the Maritime Self-Defense Force [the Rising Sun Flag] and the targeting radar incident, continue to demand an appropriate response. On top of that, the South Korean government announced in August of this year that it intends to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). The Defense Ministry described this decision as ‘extremely regrettable’ and ‘strongly calls on South Koreans to take sensible action to enable appropriate bilateral ties with Japan and trilateral ties with Japan and the US.’”

That stands in contrast to the achievements and plans for cooperation that are generally listed in sections about defense cooperation with other countries. The only positive mention of defense cooperation with South Korea is a reference to trilateral cooperation with South Korea and the US on the issue of North Korea.

By Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent

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