Seoul pushed into corner over extending pact with Tokyo
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.