Political conditions in Northeast Asia are fluctuating again ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Korea. The neighboring countries appear to be disapproving of closer relations between Korea and China and are competing more fiercely for hegemony in the region.
It is North Korea that is the most sensitive to the state visit. Its relations with China have deteriorated since Pyongyang’s nuclear test in 2006, since the inauguration of President Xi Jinping in particular. The North launched two Scud-series short-range ballistic missiles on June 29, three projectiles assumed to be multiple rockets with a range of 190 km on June 26, and two additional short-range projectiles toward the East Sea on the morning of July 2.
In addition, it made a special proposal for the relaxation of military tensions on June 30 as a part of its double strategy to break Sino-Korean cooperation. “China puts first stability in the Korean Peninsula, and thus it is unlikely to buttress South Korea in a unilateral way,” said professor Lim Eul-chul at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies Kyungnam University, adding, “Pyongyang’s recent diplomatic tactics are to take advantage of this aspect.”
Japan, which has been in conflict with China over the Senkaku Islands, is unhappy with the current situation as well. Japan is likely to be further isolated if the Korean and Chinese leaders’ warning is issued during the summit meeting against Japan’s attempt to distort the Kono Statement and pursuit of the right of collective self-defense. Then, Japan will cope with the pressure by means of a rightward shift. It is said that the recent amicable atmosphere between North Korea and Japan seen in the negotiations for the abductees is a sort of reaction to the enhancement of the Sino-Korean relations.
Washington, on its part, is putting pressure on both South Korea and China, while fostering its partnership with Japan and claiming that China should assume a bigger role in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. It is in this context that the United States has clarified its support for Japan’s pursuit of the right of collective self-defense. “The United States welcomes Japan’s new policy regarding the right of collective self-defense,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stated on July 1 (local time), adding, “This will allow the Self-Defense Forces’ participation in a wider variety of operations and add to the efficiency of the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
This is contrary to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei’s comment on the previous day that Japan seems to be trying to veer from peaceful development. Beijing is also putting pressure on the South Korean government to choose between the U.S. and itself, strongly opposed to Seoul’s import of missile defense systems from the United States.