A situation that would undermine trilateral defense cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea has been avoided for now. However, going forward, Japan and South Korea must work to resolve their outstanding issues. It remains to be seen whether the two countries can restore their relationship of trust through repeated dialogue. Taking an optimistic view should be avoided.
Regarding the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan, South Korea announced that it would suspend the effect of a notice of the agreement’s termination issued in August. If no action had been taken, the pact would have expired on Saturday.
GSOMIA, which Japan and South Korea signed in 2016, is a framework under which the two countries reciprocally provide confidential information. This pact symbolizes the strengthening of cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea in the face of threats from North Korea.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “Cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea is important to deal with North Korea. South Korea must have made the decision from such a strategic point of view.”
If the intelligence-sharing pact expires, it would benefit North Korea and China, which are seeking to reduce the influence of the U.S. military in East Asia. The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in should recognize the seriousness of this point.
There is no doubt that Washington’s strong pressure on Seoul has proved effective. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other high-ranking officials visited South Korea in succession to press it on the need to extend the pact. The U.S. Senate adopted a resolution urging South Korea’s reconsideration of its decision to end GSOMIA, cautioning that the termination “harms United States national security.”
Both Japan and the United States must continue to urge South Korea to take appropriate measures in light of the severe security environment in East Asia.
South Korea had regarded its notice that it would terminate the pact as a response to Japan’s strengthening of export controls toward South Korea. In the first place, it was unreasonable to link the trade issue with security matters.
The South Korean government had started procedures to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the grounds that Japan’s measure violates WTO rules. But it has now notified the Japanese side of a decision to suspend this process. Japan, for its part, will respond by holding high-level talks with South Korea on export controls.
Japan has excluded South Korea from its list of countries eligible for simplified export procedures, citing problems in managing materials that could be diverted to military use. South Korea’s future response needs to be ascertained.
A thaw in the Japan-South Korea relationship cannot be expected unless their dispute over South Korean former requisitioned workers is resolved.
The South Korean Supreme Court’s rulings that ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to such former requisitioned workers violates the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation between the two countries. Nevertheless, the Moon administration has yet to take workable corrective measures.
The assets of the Japanese companies have been seized. If they are cashed in, that will cause actual harm. The South Korean government must swiftly come up with a proposal for a solution acceptable to the Japanese side.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 23, 2019