Expanded South Korean military drills around disputed island draw Japanese protest

In a development that could possibly further complicate ties between Seoul and Tokyo, South Korea’s navy on Sunday began two-day exercises on and around a group of islets controlled by South Korea but also claimed by Japan. (South Korea’s Navy via AP)
Updated 25 August 2019
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Expanded South Korean military drills around disputed island draw Japanese protest

  • Tokyo and Seoul have long been at loggerheads over the sovereignty of the group of islets
  • The Japanese foreign ministry called the drills unacceptable and said it had lodged a protest with South Korea

SEOUL: South Korean forces began two days of expanded drills on Sunday around an island also claimed by Japan, prompting a protest from Tokyo only days after Seoul said it would scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with its neighbor amid worsening relations.
Tokyo and Seoul have long been at loggerheads over the sovereignty of the group of islets called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean, which lie about halfway between the East Asian neighbors in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea.
The latest military drills began on Sunday and included naval, air, and army forces, as well as marines, a South Korean ministry of defense official said.
The Japanese foreign ministry called the drills unacceptable and said it had lodged a protest with South Korea calling for them to end.
The island is “obviously an inherent part of the territory of Japan,” Kenji Kanasugi, the director general at the ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo in a statement.
Ko Min-jung, a spokeswoman for South Korea’s presidential Blue House, said the drill was an annual exercise and not aimed at any specific country.
“It’s an exercise to guard our sovereignty and territory,” she told reporters in Seoul.
The exercise included significantly more South Korean forces than previously involved and spanned a wider area in the sea between South Korea and Japan, a South Korean navy official told Reuters.
For the first time the drills included an Aegis-equipped destroyer and army special forces, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Tensions in the region have spiked amid a worsening political and economic spat between South Korea and Japan, a string of missile launches by North Korea, and increasingly assertive military patrols by China and Russia.
South Korea announced the scrapping of an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan on Thursday, drawing a swift protest from Tokyo and deepening a decades-old dispute over wartime history that has hit trade and undercut security cooperation over North Korea.
Relations between South Korea and Japan began to deteriorate late last year following a diplomatic row over compensation for wartime forced laborers during Japan’s occupation of Korea.
They soured further when Japan tightened its curbs on exports of high-tech materials needed by South Korea’s chip industry, and again this month when Tokyo said it would remove South Korea’s fast-track export status.
The disputed islands have long been one of the most sensitive areas of contention between Japan and South Korea.
A detachment of South Korean guards has been stationed there since the 1950s and South Korea has conducted annual defense drills in the area.
The current exercises had been delayed as relations deteriorated, Yonhap news agency reported.
In July, South Korea and Japan responded to what they saw as a violation of their air space near the islands by a Russian military plane.
The South Korean navy said the drills were designed to underscore its commitment to defending the broader area.
“The military has changed the name of the drills to ‘East Sea Territorial Protection Exercise’ reflecting the scale and meaning of the drills to solidify the military’s resolve to protect the territory in the East Sea,” the South Korean navy said in a statement. Previous drills had been called the “Dokdo Defense Exercise.”


Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

Updated 16 September 2019
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Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

  • Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union

LUXEMBOURG: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker for talks Monday insisting a Brexit deal is possible, despite deep skepticism from European capitals with just six weeks to go before departure day.
After a weekend in which he compared himself to comic book super-smasher Hulk, the British leader will enjoy a genteel working lunch of snails and salmon in Luxembourg with the EU Commission president.
Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union before an October 17 EU summit.
A UK spokesman said Johnson would tell Juncker that “progress has been made, given that before the summer recess many said reopening talks would not be possible.
“The UK needs to enact the referendum result and avoid another delay; the UK wants to deliver Brexit and move on to other priorities, and EU member states’ leaders want to renegotiate an orderly Brexit.”
But Brussels has played down talk of a breakthrough, insisting Johnson has yet to suggest any “legally operable” proposal to revise a previous withdrawal accord.
As he shook hands with Johnson, Juncker declared himself “cautiously optimistic” and insisted that “Europe never loses patience” despite the tortuous Brexit saga dragging on over three years.
Finland’s European affairs minister, Tytti Tuppurainen, who was chairing an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels, gave a more downbeat assessment, repeating the bloc’s long-standing complaint that London has simply not come up with detailed ideas for replacing the so-called “Irish backstop” section of the divorce deal.
“The European Union is always ready to negotiate when a proper proposal from the UK side is presented,” Tuppurainen said.
“So far I haven’t seen any proposal that would compensate the backstop.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who joined the leaders for their talks in Juncker’s native Grand Duchy, said last week he has “no reason to be optimistic.”
The European Parliament will this week vote on a resolution rejecting Johnson’s demand that the backstop clause be stripped from the deal.
Johnson insists this measure, which temporarily keeps the UK in the EU customs union, has to go if he is to bring the agreement back to the House of Commons.
But the accord will also have to win the support of the other 27 EU leaders and the European Parliament if Britain is not to crash out with no deal on October 31 — a scenario that businesses warn would bring economic chaos.
Johnson, in turn, boasts that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask his European counterparts to postpone Brexit for a third time.
“Be in no doubt that if we cannot get a deal — the right deal for both sides — then the UK will come out anyway,” Johnson said, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday.
A UK spokesman said that Britain would refuse an extension even if one were offered.
It is difficult, then, to see what might come from the lunch. There is no plan for a joint statement, but Barnier will meet Britain’s Brexit minister Stephen Barclay for separate discussions.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Barclay indicated that any post-Brexit transition period could be extended past 2020 in order to resolve issues with the border.
Johnson, meanwhile, compared himself to Marvel comics hero Hulk, the rampaging mutant alter-ego of a mild-mannered nuclear scientist.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets and he always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be,” Johnson told the Mail on Sunday.
Johnson’s strategy faces resistance at home, where rebel and opposition MPs have passed a law aimed at forcing him to seek a Brexit delay.
Britain’s Supreme Court will rule this week on a bid to overturn Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament and limit time to debate the crisis.
Barnier will address the European Parliament session in Strasbourg on Wednesday as MEPs vote to reaffirm and reinforce the EU Brexit stance — and insist that the backstop must stay.
After his lunch with Juncker, Johnson is due to meet Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. The pair will hold a joint news conference.