Military and Defense

China’s Military Threat Is Pushing America’s Asian Allies Closer Together

China’s growing militarism has been met with strengthening ties between U.S. allies in the Pacific, as they attempt to shore up disagreements and deepen defense cooperation with the U.S., according to The Wall Street Journal.

South Korea and Japan reached a deal Monday to give Koreans subject to forced labor in Japan during World War II financial compensation, a milestone in relations between the two countries, the WSJ reported. It’s the latest development in a series of defense commitments and goodwill offerings intended to construct a united front against China.

“This has been an unprecedented pace of strategic realignment,” U.S. ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said, according to the WSJ.

Lingering bitterness over Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945 has formed a wedge in U.S. efforts to build a web of containment against Beijing and Pyongyang, according to the WSJ. Several court cases in South Korea in recent years threatened to liquidate assets of Japanese firms implicated in forced labor.

The new agreement encourages private South Korean companies that benefited from a 1965 normalization treaty to contribute to a foundation that should dole out payments to forced labor victims, the WSJ reported. It resolves longstanding hostilities and could ease a U.S. push to increase South Korea-Japan intelligence sharing and intellectual property protection measures.

“Japan has transformed from a militaristic aggressor of the past into a partner that shares the same universal values with us,” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said, according to the WSJ.

As part of the plan, Japan is prepared to abolish export controls on materials needed for South Korean semiconductor manufacturing, another issue that has become a flashpoint between the U.S. and China, according to the WSJ. The plan comes as the U.S. is moving to shore up competition with China’s semiconductor industry; Tokyo signed on to a U.S.-sponsored pledge to restrict chip-making components to China in January.

“Cooperation between South Korea and Japan is incredibly important on all fronts including diplomacy, economy and defense,” Park Jin, the foreign minister, said, the WSJ reported.

The U.S. has stepped up military drills with South Korea in the past year in a show of force against North Korea, announcing the largest field exercises since 2017 would take place later in March, according to The Associated Press.

Japan approved a historic defense budget increase to $50.1 billion for fiscal year 2023 starting in April, including $2 billion to buy U.S.-made Tomahawk missiles. Burgeoning threats from China and North Korea spurred the change, and Tomahawk missiles deployed to naval warships could enhance Japan’s ability to deter attacks, the WSJ reported.

In addition, the Philippines, which tilted toward China under former President Rodrigo Duterte, has revolved back toward the U.S. since Ferdinand Marcos assumed leadership in 2022, according to the WSJ. The U.S. and the Philippines agreedin January to allow the U.S. military expanded presence on the island’s military bases as both countries eye China’s increasing threat to stability in the Pacific region.

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