|President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump talk with United Nations soldiers during their visit to Observation Post Ouellette at Camp Bonifas on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone, June 30. Korea Time photo by Ryu Hyo-jin|
By Jung Da-min
The Ministry of National Defense (MND) said Thursday that it would not consider allowing Japanese troops onto Korean territory under the United Nations Command (UNC). The announcement followed media reports that Japan's forces could come under the control of the UNC in the case of a war on the peninsula.
The reports said that Japan has expressed its willingness to join the UNC, while the U.S. is seeking to expand the role of multinational forces in the region, citing government sources.
"There has been no discussion or review of Japan's participation in the UNC," said ministry spokesman Roh Jae-cheon during a regular press briefing. "Japan did not participate in the 1950-53 Korean War and thus cannot send troops in the future."
The statement caused some controversy, as members of the UNC consist not only of states that sent troops to fight in the Korean War and also those that gave material support. Observers note that the participation of Japanese troops in any future conflict is therefore technically possible, but highly unlikely due to the anti-Japanese military sentiment in Korea, following Tokyo's 1910 to 1945 colonial rule.
The media reports pointed to a description of the role of the UNC in a recently published annual report by the United States Forces Korea (USFK) that said, "the UNC continues to ensure the support and force flow through Japan that would be necessary in time of crisis."
A UNC spokesman said there appeared to have been a misunderstanding of the sentence in interpreting the word "through" in the Korean version of the report. While this indicates the UNC in Korea would work with its forces in Japan where its rear command is located, alongside seven United States Forces in Japan bases in a crisis, it did not mean that any Japanese forces would come to Korea, he said.
"That the UNC is seeking to include Japan as one of the states sending troops is completely untrue," a UNC spokesman told The Korea Times.
The U.S.-led UNC is technically a multinational force comprised of 18 nations ― the U.S., South Korea, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Officers from the UNC are supposed to assist in operations of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces (CFC) in times of war on the Korean Peninsula.
Meanwhile, it was revealed that the ministry rejected the appointment of a German officer to the UNC, as it was proceeded with without consulting the South Korean government.
Roh said the ministry found out about the matter at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, the Asia Security Summit in Singapore held from May 31 to June 2.
The Hankook Ilbo reported that the appointment of the German officer was made at the request of the U.S., which could be seen as Washington's attempt to expand the UNC, so that it could yield more influence even after the transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean troops to South Korea, which has recently been accelerated.
Roh said the ministry cannot comment on such a media analysis.