Japan and South Korea both regard their bilateral intelligence-sharing pact as essential to safeguarding their people. South Korea under President Moon Jae-in should retract its nonsensical decision to scrap the agreement.
The Moon administration decided in August not to renew the pact, known as GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement). In the three years ago since it was signed, the pact has allowed Japan and South Korea share information on various security problems, including North Korea’s missile launches.
Unless the Moon administration reverses its decision, the agreement will expire at midnight on Nov. 23. The expiration of the pact will deliver a serious blow not only to the relationship between Japan and South Korea but also to vital security ties with the United States.
At a high-level defense policy meeting between the United States and South Korea held in Seoul on Nov. 16, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper pressed the Moon administration to keep the pact alive. At a news conference after the meeting, Esper said, “The only ones who benefit from expiration of GSOMIA and continued friction between Seoul and Tokyo are Pyongyang and Beijing.”
For Washington, GSOMIA plays an important part in the global network of U.S. military operations. The Trump administration seems to be concerned that the demise of the pact will undermine its strategy for global supremacy in its battle with China.
A senior official of the South Korean presidential office indicated that the Moon administration will not revoke its decision unless Japan changes its attitude. The official was referring to Seoul’s demand that Tokyo withdraw rescind tightened control of exports of key industrial materials to South Korea.
Japan’s decision was seen as retaliatory move over South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation for their treatment of Korean laborers during World War II.
The Moon administration’s decision not to renew the intelligence-sharing pact was intended as a reprisal against Tokyo’s export restrictions. Since then, North Korea has stepped up its missile launches.
South Korean experts have argued it would be prudent for Seoul to maintain the agreement.
The Moon administration apparently understands that it will serve the nation’s interest to continue GSOMIA. We hope the South Korean government will make a wise decision during the week until the agreement expires.
To encourage the Moon administration to take a step in the right direction, the Japanese government needs to soften its adamant attitude toward the issue.
It is difficult for the two governments to quickly settle disputes rooted in deep disagreements. But it is, for instance, possible for Japan and South Korea to take a concessional step, such as establishing a new framework for high-level official talks to discuss issues of interest to both sides. Such a positive diplomatic gesture will help create an environment for the Moon administration’s move to continue the agreement, at least for the time being.
What the two countries need is not rigid adherence to their respective positions on various issues. Instead, they need sensible diplomacy to stop mutually damaging acts in both the security and economic areas.
On Nov. 15, Esper also urged South Korea to pay more for the cost of stationing U.S. troops in the country. South Korea has increased its contribution for this year, but Washington has demanded five times what Seoul agreed to pay this year under a one-year deal for the following year.
This reflects the U.S. administration’s failure to appreciate the value of its alliances. The Trump administration has been putting pressure on key U.S. allies to shoulder more of the financial burden of U.S. operations to defend them according to its “America First” agenda, while stressing the importance of security cooperation with them.
The way the Trump administration has handled U.S. ties with its allies has become a major threat to the U.S.-led international order.
Japan will also face talks with the United States over the costs of the U.S. forces stationed in Japan. Japan and South Korea should be standing shoulder to shoulder in resisting any unfair and unreasonable demand from Washington.
Japan, the United States and South Korea need to regain their ability to make cool-headed decisions.