South Korea reacts with caution to new US-Japan defence ties

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea on Tuesday responded cautiously to a new set of US-Japan defence guidelines, demanding close consultations with Seoul on issues concerning security on the Korean peninsula.

Under the new guidelines, Japan could shoot down missiles heading toward the United States and come to the aid of third countries under attack, if the attack was deemed a threat to Japanese security.

Seoul had been concerned that the new rules for defence cooperation unveiled on Monday might allow Japan to exercise the doctrine of "collective self-defence" around the Korean peninsula without its consent.

South Korea hosts 28,500 US troops who help defend the South against threats from nuclear-armed North Korea.

"The government expects the United States and Japan ... to implement the guidelines in ways that contribute to regional peace and stability and to maintain close consultations with us in issues relating to security on the Korean peninsula and our national interests," South Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

It added that the new Japan-US guidelines appeared to have taken Seoul's concerns into consideration, noting the stipulation of complete respect for the sovereignty of third countries.

A Seoul defence ministry spokesman reaffirmed on Tuesday that Seoul's approval would be required for any Japanese military activity within South Korea's operational zones in times of war.

Japan and South Korea are the two main US military allies in Asia, but diplomatic relations between the two neighbours have always been tense.

The bitter legacy of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula is a powerful issue in South Korea, which is extremely wary of any expansion of Japanese military activity or sphere of responsibility.

There was no immediate reaction from North Korea to the new guidelines.

Last month, the North's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, warned that they were an attempt by the US to tighten its grip on the region and would bring "military conflicts and the dark clouds of a nuclear arms race."

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