Northeast AsiaPartnerships

Japan, South Korea strengthen defense, supply chain cooperation

Marc Jacob Prosser

Japan and South Korea are working together in key areas including defense and supply chain resilience. Through formal agreements and increased dialogue, their governments are sharing intelligence and cooperating on technology trade security, officials and analysts said.

“There is an increasing need for [South] Korea and Japan to cooperate in this time of a polycrisis, with North Korean nuclear and missile threats escalating, and global supply chains being disrupted,” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said before his mid-March 2023 summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

During their joint news conference in Tokyo, Kishida echoed Yoon’s comments, stressing the region’s challenging security environment and the need to vigorously promote bilateral security cooperation.

Japan and South Korea have agreed to resume security discussions between senior diplomats and defense officials. They also aim to normalize their intelligence-sharing pact and resume frequent, informal visits by diplomats.

The increased collaboration follows decades of strained relations dating to Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century.

Yoichiro Sato, a professor of international relations at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Japan, said that sharing intelligence can help Seoul and Tokyo discern North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile advances.

“The bilateral thaw also restored observer participations in the two countries’ respective military exercises with the United States. These exercises contribute to further confidence building between South Korea and Japan, paving the path toward closer trilateral security cooperation,” Sato told FORUM.

As well as reaffirming defense ties, the recent bilateral summit also could enhance economic cooperation, according to Nozomu Yoshitomi, a professor in the College of Risk Management at Tokyo’s Nihon University.

“The possibility of cooperation between the two countries on economic security, with China in mind, is a major achievement,” Yoshitomi, a retired major general with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, told FORUM.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the biggest trade partner of Japan and South Korea, but its increasingly assertive posture in the Indo-Pacific poses economic and foreign policy challenges. Trade disputes between the PRC and the U.S. and its allies and partners further complicate the situation, affecting imports and sales of goods such as computer chips.

For example, recent U.S. legislation seeks to boost national chip research, development and production, while curbing the PRC’s access to advanced chips and chip-making equipment. It encourages U.S. allies and partners to limit computer-chip interactions with the PRC.

The PRC has been a major market for chips and chip-making equipment for Japan and South Korea. Computer chip companies have also opened factories in the PRC to take advantage of lower production costs.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the U.S. have established the Chip 4 Alliance to ensure the stable production and supply of computer chips.

At their summit, Kishida and Yoon agreed to enhance economic security by addressing shared challenges such as strengthening supply chains and preventing sensitive technology leaks.

Japan has agreed to remove curbs on exports of industrial materials essential for smartphone displays and semiconductor chips. Simultaneously, Seoul announced that it will restore Tokyo’s status as a preferred trade partner.


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