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Esper pushes Seoul on sharing, Gsomia

Pentagon chief warns that wealthy countries ‘should pay more’

Nov 16,2019
Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, right, clasps hands with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at a joint press conference after holding the 51st Security Consultative Meeting at the Ministry of National Defense in central Seoul on Friday. Esper and other U.S. military leaders including Mark Milley, U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later met with President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper bluntly pressed South Korea Friday to pay more of the cost of American troops in the country and renew a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan.

Esper met with Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo at an annual security consultative meeting in Seoul. Following their meeting, the two defense chiefs held a joint press conference and discussed their talks.

“Secretary Esper and I agreed that the defense cost sharing should be decided at a fair and mutually agreeable level,” said Jeong.
Esper was more blunt. South Korea “is a wealthy country and could and should pay more,” he said, indicating an apparent gap between Seoul and Washington on the issue.

“It is crucial that we conclude the [Special Measures Agreement on defense cost sharing] with increased burden sharing by South Korea before the end of the year,” Esper continued.

The current deal expires on Dec. 31, and Washington has demanded Seoul pay as much as fivefold the current amount, or nearly $5 billion, making the ongoing negotiation harder than ever. Another round of talks will take place in Seoul next week.

Since U.S. President Donald Trump took office, Washington has been pushing Seoul to pay much more. Earlier this year, the two sides managed to strike the current one-year deal, in which Seoul pays around 1.04 trillion won, which amounted to some $920 million at the time of its implementation in March. This was 8.2 percent more than what it spent last year for the stationing of 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea.

Other outstanding alliance issues, such as South Korea’s planned takeover of wartime operational control of its troops from the United States, were also discussed at the meeting. Jeong said significant progress was made in South Korea’s abilities to control its troops.

The two sides discussed the latest North Korean missile launches, and the United States reconfirmed its continuing commitment to offer “extended deterrence” to South Korea, Jeong said. The United States promised a nuclear umbrella to South Korea after withdrawing its tactical nuclear weapons from the country in 1990s.

“We agreed to firmly maintain the combined defense posture through close cooperation among South Korea and the United States in particular,” Jeong said. “We agreed to continue the security cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the United States against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.”

Jeong’s comments were made as South Korea faced unprecedented pressure from the United States to recant its decision to withdraw from the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan. Esper did not hesitate to press South Korea on the issue during the press conference Friday.

“Gsomia is an important tool by which South Korea, the United States and Japan share effective and timely information, particularly in times of war,” he said. “Expiration of Gsomia would have an impact on our effectiveness, so we’ve urged all sides to sit down and work through their differences. The only ones who benefit from the expiration of Gsomia and continued friction between Seoul and Tokyo are Pyongyang and Beijing. That reason alone should be powerful enough for all of us to sit down and make sure we restore our alliance, our partnership, to where it was. So we work together to deal with our common threats and challenges.”

Following a diplomatic feud concerning wartime forced labor compensation issues, Japan removed South Korea from a list of trusted trade partners in July. South Korea responded by announcing its decision to not renew Gsomia, citing the lack of bilateral trust. The agreement is scheduled to end Nov. 23.

Jeong also admitted to the importance of keeping the agreement. “I and Secretary Esper exchanged some personal opinions on the issue,” he said.

“As the minister of defense, I have numerously stressed the importance of Gsomia, trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the United States and the South Korea-U.S. alliance when I attended National Assembly hearings,” Jeong said. “We still have some time left before its expiration, and it is my fundamental belief that Seoul and Tokyo should have good talks to keep Gsomia.”

Jeong defended Seoul’s decision, urging Tokyo to change its attitude. He said it was unavoidable for the South Korean government to decide to end the agreement due to Japan’s economic retaliations, citing reasons of security and loss of trust. “The United States and Secretary Esper have also urged Japan to do so,” Jeong said.

Following the defense ministerial talks, Esper visited the Blue House in the afternoon and met with President Moon Jae-in and senior presidential aides.

Moon explained to Esper why Korea has decided to end the Gsomia with Japan, said Ko Min-jung, presidential spokeswoman. Moon also said he will continue efforts to maintain security cooperation among Korea, Japan and the United States, Ko said.

According to Ko, Esper told Moon that he will ask Japan to work on a smooth resolution of the issue.

Conspicuously missing at the Blue House meeting was Deputy National Security Advisor Kim Hyun-chong, who has strongly argued for terminating the agreement.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministries of South Korea and Japan held a director-level negotiation on Friday, but the meeting ended without a breakthrough. Kim Jung-han, director-general for Asian and Pacific affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met with his Japanese counterpart, Shigeki Takizaki, for over two hours in Tokyo.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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