Prudence required

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Prudence required

President Moon Jae-in reportedly decided to extend the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan in August after being briefed on the deal’s effectiveness with top brass. Given Moon’s past position on the issue, the decision carries great significance.

During the campaign, Moon made commitments to withdraw the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) and review Gsomia after keenly taking into account public opinion against reinforcement of South Korea’s military cooperation with Japan even under a mounting nuclear threat from North Korea. The dramatic shift in Moon’s position reflects the growing security concerns posed by Pyongyang and translates to an admission of problems with his original approach.

No matter how uneasy Seoul’s relations are with Tokyo over history, the government took the right direction in resolving the North Korean weapons threats by agreeing to share sensitive military information with Japan. Though belated, we welcome the remarkable turnaround our government has made after looking squarely at the grim security situation in Northeast Asia.

The government’s renewal of the agreement also reflects a need to recognize Japan’s strategic importance as a military partner. Despite its relatively weak attack capability due to its decades-old Peace Constitution, Japan is known to have excellent information-gathering ability. Therefore, Seoul found a need to cooperate with Tokyo to effectively counter the North Korean threat.

But our government must prudently approach the issue of whether to extend the bilateral military cooperation down the road, including the exchange of sensitive information. Some Japanese media outlets have been criticizing South Korea for “only providing information on North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.” Although Tokyo does not say it overtly, it still wants Seoul to offer military intelligence on China. But that surely depends on whether current military cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan will mature into a military alliance in the future.

South Korea can hardly avoid the fate of having to live with a China striving to become a regional hegemon. We should be careful not to turn China into an enemy by practically joining the tripartite alliance through the provision of sensitive information on China to Japan. It would be the best for the government to be prudent in exchanging sensitive military information with Japan in order not to provoke China.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 27, Page 34
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