By Matthew Pennington, AP
WASHINGTON — Strained relations between American allies Japan and South Korea are hurting military cooperation, including on missile defense, despite the common threat they face from North Korea, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific said Tuesday.
Adm. Samuel Locklear told reporters that political issues between the two East Asian nations have impeded information-sharing and affected America’s ability to conduct “credible military engagement” among them. He said that’s an impediment to the security of both Japan and South Korea.
Two years ago, Seoul pulled out of a planned military intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo, and relations have only worsened since a nationalist government has taken power in Japan, intensifying South Korean resentment over what it sees as a lack of Japanese contrition for abusive conduct before and during World War II.
The United States is keen to promote coordination among its allies in the Asia-Pacific as it looks to step up its presence there, to deter North Korea and counter the rise of China. The U.S. has a total of 80,000 forces based in Japan and South Korea.
“From my perspective it’s very important for both the Japanese and the South Koreans to recognize they have many mutual security interests” that would benefit from bilateral and trilateral military cooperation, Locklear told a Pentagon news conference.
“They have a huge common concern with North Korea and we encourage both Japan and South Korea to work to overcome their political differences so we can work to provide a better security environment,” he said.
Locklear said both nations had very credible missile defense capabilities but are not able to communicate with each other because of information-sharing restrictions and that’s degrading their ability to defend their nations and airspace.
North Korea routinely test-fires missiles, artillery and rockets, but the number of weapons tests it has conducted this year is much higher than previous years. Its latest short-range missile test was on Saturday, the 61st anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
Locklear said the North’s desire for nuclear weapons remains highly threatening to global security.