Seoul pulls out of Gsomia pact with Tokyo
The decision to scrap the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan, reached at a National Security Council meeting Thursday afternoon, shows the Moon administration is willing to risk its security relationship with Japan amid the two neighbor’s ongoing diplomatic and economic feud.
“The government has concluded that the Japanese government’s decision to remove Korea from … its so-called white list countries … based on a security-related issue for which it did not present clear evidence prompted serious changes to the security cooperation environment between the two countries,” said Kim Yu-geun, first deputy director of the Blue House National Security Office.
“Under such conditions, the government has determined that continuing an agreement that was reached with the purpose of sharing sensitive security-related military information is not in our interest.”
According to Kyodo News, a Japanese government official expressed “deep regret” with Seoul’s decision.
With the deadline to give notice on renewal of the pact coming Saturday, Seoul had, for weeks, mulled over whether to retain the agreement.
As public anger with Japan spiked in the last two months, several Democratic Party lawmakers openly called for Gsomia to be scrapped, while others said Seoul should use the fate of Gsomia to apply pressure on Japan and stop it from imposing additional economic retaliations.
This however did not stop Tokyo from eventually removing Seoul from its white list of preferred trade partners on Aug. 2.
That same day, the Blue House's second deputy national security adviser Kim Hyun-chong issued a strong condemnation that hinted Seoul may scrap Gsomia as a countermeasure.
“The government will take comprehensive measures, such as considering whether it is right to maintain sensitive military intelligence sharing with a country that raised trust and national security issues with us,” Kim said.
To justify its new economic restrictions on South Korea — which many consider retaliation for diplomatic discord over an agreement over compensation for sex slaves and forced laborers during World War II — Tokyo claimed in July that industrial materials South Korea shipped to Seoul may have made their way into North Korea to be used for the latter’s chemical and nuclear weapons program.
That signified a breach of “trust,” according to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July.
Signed in November 2016, Gsomia is renewed automatically every year unless either of the two countries decides to scrap the pact, in which case it must provide the other with at leasta 90 days’ notice. Saturday is 90 days before the renewal date of Nov. 23.
Seoul’s Thursday decision to scrap the pact highlights disunity between the two U.S. allies amid continued security threats posed by North Korea and the growing military influence of China in the region.
According to South Korea’s Ministry of Defense, South Korea and Japan shared military intelligence a total of 29 times since Gsomia was first signed, with most of these taking place in 2017, when the frequency of North Korea’s missile tests reached its peak. This year, Seoul and Tokyo traded intelligence seven times, after every one of Pyongyang’s weapons tests save for one on May 4.
Earlier, on Thursday morning, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga called on South Korea to retain the pact, saying that it contributed to the preservation of regional peace and stability and enabled the two countries to be better prepared for security contingencies on the basis of a wider pool of intelligence.
“The [Japanese] government believes that while Korea-Japan relations are in a very difficult situation, it is important to cooperate even with Korea in issues that require cooperation,” Suga said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Kono Taro also reportedly told South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha at a trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting in Beijing on Wednesday that Gsomia should be kept, to which Kang replied it was “not possible to retain a framework of exchanging sensitive military information,” given Japan has raised issues with its trust of South Korea, according to a top South Korean diplomatic official cited by Yonhap News.
South Korea’s withdrawal from Gsomia is expected to have an impact on its relationship with the United States, which had recently put pressure on Seoul to keep the pact.
With its security framework in Northeast Asia threatened by the diplomatic feud between its allies, Washington this month dispatched a series of top security officials, including its new Defense Secretary Mark Esper and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, to both Seoul and Tokyo in an effort to preserve trilateral cooperation.
In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo last month, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris too said Gsomia represented “the maturity of the defense relationship between Korea and Japan” and that it would be “regrettable” if it was terminated.
The pact was also one of the issues discussed in a meeting conducted hours before the Blue House’s decision was announced on Thursday between Kim Hyun-chong and the U.S. top nuclear envoy, Special Representative Stephen Biegun. In a press conference following the meeting, Kim said he told Biegun Seoul would “carefully review” the pact.
After the Blue House announcement, Kang told reporters Thursday that the decision to exit the pact was over trust issues with Japan that were entirely separate from South Korea’s alliance with the United States.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]