South Korea is facing a dilemma after its peacekeepers in South Sudan received ammunition from Japan, which Tokyo may use to bolster its assertive defense policy.
Responding to a U.N. request, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces engineering troops in South Sudan supplied 10,000 rounds of ammunition to the South Korean troops on Monday through the U.N. mission in the African country.
It was the first time Japan has provided ammunition to another country and the latest move to ease self-imposed constraints on its military.
South Korea has fiercely protested Japan’s bid to expand its military’s role overseas pushed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe has raised Japan’s defense spending for the first time in 11 years, set up the National Security Council to strengthen his grip on security policy, and laid out a new security strategy that calls for a review of Japan’s decades-old ban on arms exports.
South Korean officials stressed the delivery was made not directly between Korean and Japanese forces, but through the U.N. mission.
“Fact is that the Hanbit unit requested and received the U.N.’s support to beef up its defense posture. Nothing more and nothing less,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said.
Defense Ministry officials also said that Japan’s provision was conducted under U.N. authority.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a statement on Monday that the ammunition supply was exempt from the arms exports ban given its emergency and humanitarian nature.
The Japanese engineers are stationed in the South Sudan capital of Juba, while South Korean troops are in the rebel-held Jonglei state capital Bor, where the security situation is tougher.
“The ammunition that is in shortage is the same type our country’s troops have, and only our troops in the UNMISS mission have this type of ammunition in store,” a Japanese government statement said.
“If we don’t provide it for free, the protection of the South Korean troops and refugees is compromised,” it said.
In 1967, Japan drew up “three principles” on arms exports, banning sales to countries with communist governments, those involved in international conflicts or those subject to United Nations sanctions.
The rules eventually became almost a blanket ban on arms exports and on the development and production of weapons, stifling Japanese defense contractors and making it difficult for them to keep up with cutting-edge arms technology.