Seoul pushed into cor­ner over ex­tend­ing pact with Tokyo

The Korea Times - - NATIONAL - By Yi Whan-woo yis­[email protected]­re­

Korea is fac­ing in­creas­ingly un­fa­vor­able diplo­matic cir­cum­stances over its mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing pact with Ja­pan, with less than two weeks re­main­ing be­fore its ex­pi­ra­tion.

In Au­gust, Seoul de­cided to axe the Gen­eral Se­cu­rity of Mil­i­tary In­for­ma­tion Agree­ment (GSOMIA) amid a tit-for-tat es­ca­la­tion over Korean courts’ rul­ings against Ja­panese firms linked to wartime slave la­bor and Tokyo’s cor­re­spond­ing ex­port curbs.

Korea’s move to let the pact ex­pire was in­tended to push Ja­pan to drop its eco­nomic re­tal­i­a­tion and also to urge the United States, which has stayed away from the Seoul-Tokyo row, to me­di­ate the con­flict.

But both Tokyo and Washington re­main un­changed.

“This is ap­par­ently giv­ing our gov­ern­ment a headache,” said Shin Yul, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at My­ongji Univer­sity.

He re­ferred to Ja­pan find­ing un­ac­cept­able Korea’s will­ing­ness to re­verse its Au­gust de­ci­sion and ex­tend GSOMIA, if Tokyo ends its eco­nomic re­tal­i­a­tion.

For in­stance, Ja­pan’s Chief Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga sad on Nov. 6 that ex­port curbs are “a to­tally sep­a­rate is­sue from is­sues on GSOMIA and Korea’s ar­gu­ment can­not be taken.”

Signed on Nov. 23, 2016, the pact has been re­newed ev­ery Nov. 23 au­to­mat­i­cally, un­der the con­di­tion that nei­ther of the two al­lies raise an ob­jec­tion against its ex­ten­sion.

The cir­cum­stance pushes Korea fur­ther into a cor­ner, with the U.S. ex­plic­itly ex­press­ing dis­ap­point­ment over the GSOMIA de­ci­sion. GSOMIA is viewed as a part of a broader U.S. strat­egy to con­sol­i­date the three-way se­cu­rity al­liance and bet­ter serve its ex­tended de­ter­rence in the re­gion.

And the U.S. is ask­ing Seoul to stay with the pact while re­fus­ing to in­ter­vene.

Be­ing one of the lat­est U.S. of­fi­cials to visit Seoul, As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State David Stil­well re­it­er­ated such a view last week.

“What makes the case worse is there is no way out for our gov­ern­ment,” Shin said.

He spec­u­lated re­vers­ing the GSOMIA de­ci­sion may lead to pub­lic back­lash, while ter­mi­nat­ing the pact may deepen con­cerns over a rift in the Seoul-Washington al­liance.

Against this back­drop, a Cheong Wa Dae of­fi­cial said Sun­day, Korea can’t co­op­er­ate with Ja­pan “as long as they deem us an un­trust­wor­thy part­ner and con­tinue to im­pose ex­port curbs.”

Speak­ing be­fore the Na­tional As­sem­bly, Fri­day, For­eign Min­is­ter Kang Kyung-wha, also said Ja­pan’s re­moval of the ex­port con­trol should be a pre­con­di­tion for Korea’s pos­si­ble change con­cern­ing the GSOMIA de­ci­sion. On whether Bei­jing and Py­ongyang will ben­e­fit most from the ter­mi­na­tion of GSOMIA, Kang said “Such as­sess­ment is pos­si­ble.”

Shin spec­u­lated the Se­cu­rity Con­sul­ta­tive Meet­ing (SCM) in Seoul from Nov. 15 to 16, and G20 For­eign Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing in

Nagoya, Ja­pan, from Nov. 22 to 23 may be the “last chance” to set­tle the GSOMIA dis­pute. The SCM is an an­nual de­fense talk be­tween Seoul and Washington.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of De­fense Mark Esper is sched­uled to meet with De­fense Min­is­ter Jeong Kyeong-doo. They are will dis­cuss bi­lat­eral de­fense co­op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing is­sues of mu­tual im­por­tance to the se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity of the Korean Penin­sula and the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion.

The Pen­tagon said GSOMIA will be dis­cussed, too, ad­ding the U.S. would like to see the is­sue re­solved.

The Nagoya meet­ing will draw top diplo­mats of the three al­lies, in­clud­ing Mike Pom­peo of the U.S. and Toshim­itsu Motegi of Ja­pan.

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