South Korea's president Lee Myung Bak has been like the proverbial terrier, nipping at Japan's heels throughout the month of August. First over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' strong objections, he paid a visit to Takeshima (aka Dokdo in Korean) on Aug 8, and then upon his return, demanded that the emperor apologize for the wartime sex slaves.
Feelings are now running strong among the man on the street. In a survey of subscribers to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun's electronic edition, for example, 90% of respondents stated they found Lee's actions "inexcusable" and 30% said Japan should consider such economic sanctions as punitive tariffs.
"I don't think President Lee's incendiary actions were done merely to generate popularity at home," opines author Yasushi Nishimuta. "He may be provoking Japan as a means of building rapport with the North Koreans. In any event, the postwar system that has been in place in Japan all these years is finally starting to break down."
Should the territorial feud build up to a crescendo, the possibility of armed conflict cannot be ruled out. Asahi Geino (Aug 30) "opens the Pandora's box" as it puts it, with the simulation of a military clash over Takeshima/Dokdo between the Korean armed forces and Japan's Self Defense Forces.
South Korea has three times more personnel in its armed forces than Japan does, which is why some might consider Japan militarily incapable of wresting Takeshima back from Korea. But military affairs specialist Motoaki Kamiura thinks Japan could to it "quickly" using a quick action force aboard helicopters.
Mitsuhiro Sera, another military affairs specialist, agrees, saying Japan could snatch back possession of the islands in a matter of hours.
But Kenjiro Kato believes such an operation would require a complete mobilization of the armed forces.
"The first priority would be to deny the enemy deploying reinforcements," says Kato. "Japan's Maritime SDF is far superior in quality to the Korean navy; it would be able to take the initiative."
This would require the blockading Korea's Ulleungdo island, to the west of Takeshima, with its 10,000 inhabitants.
Here is where Japan's submarine fleet would show a decided advantage, as their more advanced subs can remain submerged about three times longer than the smaller Korean vessels.
Sera also points out that Japan has six Kongo-class Aegis missile destroyers to Korea's three, and the Japanese version boasts considerably more advanced technology.
In the air, the ROK has already deployed 20 of its F15K next-generation fighters, which may be technically superior to that of Japan's F15J.
"But Japanese pilots are more skilled, and as Japan already has early warning aircraft, Japan has the ability to respond quickly to threats from the air," says Sera.
"In 2006, an ROK citizens group found that during a simulated clash between Japan and Korea, the latter's navy would be defeated," a reporter at a nationally circulated newspaper relates. "Articles in the Korean vernacular media also raise the possibility of Korea being defeated by Japan."
Of course, wars, once begun, are not easily ended, which begs the question as to how Japan would manage in a protracted conflict.
"Japan would have to concentrate its military on the coast of the Sea of Japan," says Sera. "Korea would have to shift the bulk of its forces to the country's south, away from the DMZ. War is in the interest of neither side. The reality is that the JSDF would be restricted by its rules of engagement, and could not fight the same kind of war as the Korean military."
The aforementioned author Nishimuta notes that when Japan and the ROK began to negotiate diplomatic relations after the war, the issue of Takeshima was put on the back burner and the two sides instead concluded a "secret agreement," of which no written copies remain, in which they agreed to disagree.
Korea, asserts Asahi Geino, continues to disregard the secret agreement, setting up a heliport and lighthouse, and from 2006 sending tourists to the islands. President Lee not only went there to announce the use of the two islands as a base for oceanographic research but also inscribed his name on a rock. The magazine concludes that the best way to coerce Korea into de-escalating the tension is through vigorous countermeasures that fall short of armed conflict.© Japan Today