Seoul Faces Decision on Tokyo Pact 11/20 06:22
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Squeezed between a growing North Korean threat
and a shaky alliance with the United States, South Korea must decide this week
whether its national pride and deep frustrations with Japan are worth killing a
major symbol of their security cooperation with Washington.
After exchanging haymakers with Japan over history and trade, South Korea
expanded the feud to military matters in August when it gave three-months'
notice on its plans to terminate a 2016 bilateral military intelligence-sharing
agreement it signed after years of prodding by the United States.
The announcement drew unusually blunt criticism from Washington, which
described Seoul's decision to end the pact as detrimental to the security of
its Asian allies and increasing risk to U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
Seoul has since said it could keep the agreement if Tokyo reverses a
decision to downgrade South Korea's status as a trade partner.
But neither country has been budging from their positions, with last-minute
meetings between their diplomats and military officials ending without
A look at the General Security of Military Intelligence Agreement, or
GSOMIA, which expires on Saturday unless Seoul renews it:
Washington considers the Seoul-Tokyo agreement as critical for their
three-way security cooperation to cope with North Korea's nuclear and missile
threat and balance China's growing influence.
The arrangement makes it easier for South Korea to access information
gathered by Japan's intelligence satellites, radars, patrol planes and other
high-tech systems, which are needed for analyzing North Korean missile tests
For Japan, South Korea has value because its military sensors are positioned
to detect North Korean launches sooner, and also because of information the
country gathers from spies, North Korean defectors and other human sources.
Visiting Seoul last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the
agreement facilitates fast and effective information exchanges between the
three countries, which would be crucial in times of war. He said friction
between the two U.S. allies would only benefit "Pyongyang and Beijing."
Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said the termination of
the pact would "risk sending a wrong message" about the strength of the U.S.
alliance network in the region, echoing similar comments by Japanese Defense
Minister Taro Kono.
South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo has endorsed keeping the pact
for security reasons. But South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday
reiterated that Seoul wants Tokyo to bend first.
"If Japan doesn't want to GSOMIA to end, it should cooperate with South
Korea to find solutions to problems such as the export controls," he said in a
televised townhall meeting.
Despite the U.S. push to save the agreement, most South Korean analysts say
Seoul will likely let the agreement expire. There's no clear way for South
Korea to renew the agreement without losing face.
South Korea continues to tie the fate of the pact to Japan's trade
restrictions, which it sees as a retaliation against South Korean court rulings
that called for Japanese companies to offer reparations to aging South Korean
plaintiffs for their forced labor during World War II.
But it's unlikely that Japan will restore South Korea on its "white list" of
favored trade partners unless the countries settle their dispute over the
forced laborers, which probably won't be soon.
Tokyo insists that all compensation matters were settled by a 1965 treaty
that normalized relations between the countries and accuses Seoul of
continuously opening the book on issues that were supposed to be resolved.
It's hard for South Korea to make major concessions on history issues amid
heightened public resentment over Japan's brutal colonial rule of Korea from
1910 to 1945.
Du Hyeogn Cha, an expert at Seoul's Kyung Hee University, said it would have
been more productive if Seoul and Tokyo had spent the time since August
discussing possibility of a new intelligence arrangement, instead of squabbling
over a pact Seoul had already declared dead.
The Trump administration's relentless demands on Seoul demonstrate a
profound lack of respect for an ally, Cha said.
For Seoul, extending the pact with Tokyo could create its own set of
problems, including angry reactions from Beijing, which suspended Chinese group
tours to South Korea among other economic retaliation measures after South
Korea decided to host a new U.S. anti-missile system in 2016.
"Diplomatic declarations aren't a child's play --- only state actors like
North Korea change them on the fly" said Cha, an ex-intelligence secretary to
former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
"South Korea shouldn't have threatened to terminate GSOMIA in the first
place, considering its security interests, but it's spilled water now."
Shin Beomchul, an analyst at Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies, says
GSOMIA is worth saving, but it would require a close and effective intervention
from Washington. The Trump administration has largely maintained a hands-off
approach as its two allies rapidly escalated their feud.
VIEW FROM TOKYO
South Korea's decision to terminate the pact came as a surprise to Japan,
which didn't anticipate Seoul to make a move that would anger America.
Some Japanese analysts propose similar ideas to Shin's, saying the countries
could negotiate a one-time extension of the pact while committing to diplomatic
progress over the history row.
Kenichiro Sasae, a former Japanese ambassador to the United States, said the
scrapping of the pact would be a major setback to the U.S. alliance network in
"A provisional extension can be a possibility, and (such) a decision by the
South Korean government would improve the environment of negotiations," said
Sasae, who now heads the Japan Institute of International Affairs, a
Tokyo-based think tank.
Others say the debacle over the pact is just one of many signs showing a
widening divergence between Seoul and Tokyo over North Korea, China and other
"For South Korea, the North is an enemy but also a future partner," said
Junya Nishino, a professor at Keio University in Tokyo.
Katsutoshi Kawano, Japan's former chiefs of staff, said the pact wouldn't be
effective anyway if "South Korea doesn't consider North Korea a threat."
Critics say Seoul dug itself into a hole by threatening to terminate the
pact while desperately seeking U.S. help to end its dispute with Tokyo, a
brinkmanship that clearly damaged its trust with Washington.
The squabbling over the pact comes at a delicate time for the U.S.-South
Korea alliance. There's growing frustration among South Koreans over President
Donald Trump's persistent calls for the country to pay significantly more to
help cover the costs of keeping 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea.
There's also concern that Trump, after already suspending major U.S.-South
Korean military exercises he described as "ridiculous and expensive," may seek
to reduce the U.S. military presence in South Korea to accommodate a deal with
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Moon Seong Mook, a former South Korean military official, said a scrapped
GSOMIA would further embolden North Korea.
Amid a standstill in nuclear negotiations with Washington, North Korea since
May has tested a slew of new solid-fuel missiles that are potentially capable
of evading missile defense systems or being launched from submarines,
continuing to expand its ability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan.
South Korea could also find it harder to respond to China and Russia's
increasing air patrols over waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan,
which experts say are designed to test security cooperation between the U.S.
President Moon on Tuesday repeated that Japan's trade curbs, which were
based on vague security concerns over South Korea's export controls on
sensitive materials, forced Seoul to rethink whether it could keep sharing
sensitive military information with a partner that questions its reliability.