Bloc Formation in East Asia
German Chancellor Scholz seeks to bolster cooperation with South Korea during visit in Seoul. In turn, South Korea and Japan tighten ranks against China under US leadership.
SEOUL/BERLIN (Own report) – Germany seeks to bolster cooperation with South Korea and is thus engaged in enhancing the formation of an East Asian bloc against China. This is the result of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s short visit to Seoul yesterday. Prior to his visit, Scholz had already welcomed the recent rapprochement between Japan and South Korea. The USA has exerted massive pressure on Seoul and Tokyo to tighten ranks against Beijing. The groundwork had recently been laid, when South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol practically obliged South Korean companies to assume the Japanese companies’ obligation to pay compensation to their former South Korean forced laborers. While a clear majority of South Korea’s population is rejecting this plan, as well as Yoon’s pro-Japanese policy, Scholz is backing the South Korean president. Berlin seeks to intensify cooperation with Seoul in the fields of semiconductor production, of armament and military. Plans are being discussed to involve the Bundeswehr on an ongoing basis in the US-led monitoring of UN sanctions against North Korea.
Since the beginning of this year, South Korea and Japan have achieve a rapid and intensive rapprochement. Their relations had significantly deteriorated since their last bilateral summit in 2011 – particularly because Japan is still unwilling to assume full responsibility for its crimes committed during its colonial rule over South Korea (1910 to 1945) and to pay compensation at least for the most serious of them. The conflict between the two countries escalated when, in 2018, when the South Korean Supreme Court ordered the Japanese corporations Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel to financially compensate their South Korean forced laborers. The Japanese side resisted, the security cooperation was suspended and trade conflicts escalated. South Korea’s conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol, in office since May 2022 and distinctly pro-American and pro-Japanese oriented, announced on March 1 that, to settle the conflict, the compensations should be paid by South Korean, rather than Japanese companies. The plan was greeted in Japan but met with broad protest in South Korea.
Military and High-Tech Industry
This notwithstanding, Yoon’s plan has paved the way for Japan’s summit with South Korea on March 16-17 in Tokyo, the first summit since 2011. The two leaders have agreed to resume their exchange of information on North Korea’s missile tests, as well as to boost military cooperation in general. A second summit followed immediately, with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida coming to Seoul on May 7-8. Beyond expanding their joint maneuvers, Yoon and Kishida also seek to enhance high-tech cooperation to promote the formation of an economic bloc against China. Of course, there are still obstacles in South Korea. According to surveys, only around one third of the population supports Yoon’s rapprochement with Japan. Fifty-nine percent reject the plan that South Korean companies should assume the Japanese companies’ obligations to pay compensation for their colonial and war crimes. Sixty-four percent consider the rapprochement with Japan to be premature, as long as there is no sign of a serious admission of guilt. In addition, in early May, the dispute had flared up again over a group of islands (Dokdo/Takeshima), which are located in the East Sea (Korea) or the Sea of Japan (Japan) and are claimed by both countries.
Nuclear War Scenarios
The very rapid Japanese-South Korean reproachment is primarily the result of heavy pressure from the USA. With all its might and at all levels, Washington is pursuing the formation of a comprehensive Asia-Pacific bloc against China. This forms the backdrop to the signing of a memorandum of understanding on April 26, between the USA and South Korea (“Washington Declaration”) that not only provides for the general expansion of military cooperation, but stipulates particularly a closer cooperation with the perspective of a possible nuclear confrontation with North Korea. This includes the US announcement that it was dispatching a U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarine to Korean coastal waters. Supplementing this, in mid-April, the USA, South Korea and Japan agreed to further intensify their military cooperation. This is all being met with resentment and protest. South Korea’s opposition warned that, de facto, Washington is anticipating the annihilation of the entire Korean Peninsula, given President Joe Biden’s threat that a nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies will result in “the end” of the regime in Pyongyang. There is also resentment in South Korea’s industrial sector, which finds itself being pressured to curb its significant trade with China.
Joint Semiconductor Production
Germany is also participating in the formation of an anti-China bloc in East Asia. Already in mid-April, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited South Korea, where she announced Berlin’s intention to strengthen relations with that country. Yesterday, Sunday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz followed with a short visit; Helmut Kohl’s visit in 1993 was the last time a German Chancellor had visited. Chancellor Angela Merkel had only come to Seoul within the framework of the 2010 G20 summit, without having engaged in explicit bilateral talks with South Korea’s president. In an interview in a newspaper published in South Korea prior to his arrival, Scholz clearly welcomed the South Korean-Japanese rapprochement and emphasized the need for close cooperation in light of the geopolitical tensions in Asia and the Pacific region. Berlin also considers a German-South Koreansemiconductor cooperation worth striving for. With Samsung, SK Hynix, and SK Square, South Korea has three of the world’s largest chip manufacturers. Samsung is the world’s largest semiconductor producer. Yoon agreed to closer cooperation in the production of semiconductors needed for automobile production. Scholz also urged Yoon to finally deliver weapons to Ukraine. Yoon promised Kiev support in mine-clearing, but otherwise kept a low profile.
Armament and Military Cooperation
Berlin is also seeking to expand armament industrial and military cooperation with Seoul. Since quite some time, South Korea has been one of Germany’s most important customers in military hardware. At the same time, in the five-year period from 2017 – 2021, Germany had become South Korea’s second largest supplier of heavy weapons systems – behind the USA. Conversely, the South Korean defense industry has begun to export to Europe. Poland will receive thousands of battle tanks of South Korean production. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) Simultaneously, South Korea and Germany’s armed forces have begun to cooperate. The German Frigate Bayern’s Asian-Pacific cruise and a German Air Force expedition to Australia have provided opportunities for initiating this cooperation. In late 2021, for around a month the Frigate Bayern had participated in the surveillance of UN sanctions imposed on North Korea. This is being carried out by a US-led coalition of the willing. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) Foreign Minister Baerbock announced in mid-April that, in the future, Germany will again participate in surveillance measures. The intense expansion of economic, arms, and military cooperation with South Korea is increasingly involving Germany – which is also intensifying its cooperation with Japan and Australia  – in the formation of the Asia-Pacific bloc against China.
 See also NATO at the Pacific (II)
 Mina Pollmann: What’s Driving the Japan-South Korea Thaw? thediplomat.com 21.03.2023.
 Soyoung Kim: Strengthening progress in South Korea-Japan relations. eastasiaforum.org 16.05.2023.
 Ahead of Kishida’s trip to Seoul, South Korea, Japan in verbal duel over disputed islets. aa.com.tr 03.05.2023.
 Washington Declaration. whitehouse.gov 26.04.2023.
 Anthony Kuhn: The U.S.-South Korea Washington Declaration meets with criticism in Seoul. npr.org 28.04.2023.
 Jesse Johnson: U.S., Japan and South Korea look to regularize missile defense exercises to deter North Korea. japantimes.co.uk 15.04.2023.
 Germany welcomes diplomatic thaw between S. Korea, Japan: Scholz. en.yna.co.kr 19.05.2023.
 Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzler Scholz und Präsident Yoon zum Besuch des Bundeskanzlers in der Republik Korea am 21. Mai 2023 in Seoul.
 Länderinformation Südkorea. Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies. Bonn, Dezember 2022.
 See also Battle for the Tank Market
 See also German Army at the Pacific.
 See also Gegen Nordkorea, Russland und China.
 Baerbock will Zusammenarbeit stärken. tagesschau.de 15.04.2023.
 See also War Preparations at the Pacific.