Increasingly frosty relations between South Korea and Japan lately are impeding U.S.-led efforts to bolster regional preparations for responding to a potential future North Korean attack, current and former U.S. and Japanese officials say.
"We can't afford for our allies to be on divergent paths," said David Asher, a former senior adviser on East Asian affairs at the State Department.
The United States would like to see the Japanese and South Korean armed forces deepen their collaboration against possible threats from Pyongyang, especially those posed by fast-flying missiles. However, several initiatives in that area have been stymied by historic -- and newly mounting -- distrust in Seoul about Tokyo's military ambitions.
South Korea has raised concerns over the Shinzo Abe administration's plans to expand Japan's definition of "collective self-defense" to include coming to the aid of allies besides the United States. Seoul has yet to approve a proposed bilateral accord that would authorize the exchange of military intelligence on such things as ballistic missiles fired by North Korea…
…Sung-yoon Lee, an assistant professor of Korean Studies at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said it is past time for Abe and Park to hold their first summit and discuss their governments' respective roles in a possible post-Kim North Korea.
"I understand that politically it's not feasible for the South Korean government to address those issues in public," said the Fletcher scholar in a recent phone interview. "At the same time, I think the government is being myopic in not addressing these issues behind closed doors" in trilateral talks with Japan and the United States, he said.
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