By Tim Kelly
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan welcomed a thaw in relations with South Korea in its annual defence paper on Friday but otherwise offered a gloomy assessment of the threat of China’s territorial ambitions, its security partnership with Russia and a belligerent North Korea.
“Amid the increasing severity and difficulties we face, the need for Japan and South Korea to align has become increasingly important,” the Ministry of Defence said in the 2023 Defence White Paper.
Surrounded by nuclear-armed rivals, Japan has to contend with intensifying Chinese military manoeuvres around Taiwan and disputed islands in the East China Sea, a growing threat from North Korea’s ballistic missile programme and deteriorating regional security after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, it said.
Shared security challenges helped U.S. allies Japan and South Korea mend relations that had soured over disputes about compensation for women forced to work in Japanese military brothels and other Koreans drafted as wartime labourers.
At a meeting in May with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the sidelines of a Group of Seven summit in Japan, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol praised his counterpart for expressing compassion for those who suffered under Japan’s colonial rule.
The two leaders will meet for the fourth time this yearwith President Joe Biden in the U.S. next month for a trilateral summit that could further cement their detente.
This year’s white paper is the first since Japan announced, in December, a plan to double defence spending over the next five years to fund the acquisition of new weapons and capabilities, including longer range missiles that Japan says will help deter China from resorting to military action.
A separate national security strategy document promised close cooperation with the United States and other like-minded countries.
The defence paper said partners include Australia, India, European countries such as Britain, and South Korea. Japan is also pursuing stronger ties with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
A key aim of the white paper this year is to explain why Japan is undertaking its biggest military build-up since World War Two, a defence ministry official told a briefing.
It also outlines developments over the past decade during which Japan has more than quadrupled the number of annual military exercises it undertakes with the U.S., and tripled the number of countries it offers security assistance to.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; editing by Robert Birsel)