See More on Facebook

Diplomacy

Seoul reviews military intel-sharing pact with Japan

Koreans divided on GSOMIA as the deadline for renewal emerges on Saturday.


Written by

Updated: August 21, 2019

Nearly six decades have passed since South Korea and Japan signed a treaty to normalize diplomatic ties in 1965, but their relationship has been fraught since then with continued bitterness over the history of Korea’s colonization.

Now, as the relationship of the “frenemies” hits a new low with a budding trade war, Seoul has hinted at scrapping a military intel-sharing pact with Tokyo.

But while South Koreans are unified in denouncing Japan’s increased controls on exports to South Korea, opinions are split over whether it is appropriate to use the military information-sharing agreement to hit back at Japan.

While some raise concerns that withdrawing from the bilateral agreement would spread the conflict to the security realm, opponents argue it is not right to share confidential military information with a country that does not trust Korea.

GSOMIA as an option to pressure Japan

The General Security of Military Information Agreement, the military agreement between Seoul and Tokyo, was first signed in November 2016 as part of efforts to bolster military ties.

It was encouraged by the United States, which seeks a strong bond with its Asian allies to guarantee security operations in the region against possible threats and pressure from North Korea and China.

With GSOMIA, Seoul and Tokyo agreed to exchange confidential military information of similar levels at each other’s request, although they are not mandated to provide requested information if they choose not to.

While not much has been revealed about the information the two countries exchange, South Korea is said to provide information including human-source intelligence, signals intelligence and imagery intelligence. Japan’s major intelligence assets are six satellites, six Aegis destroyers and 110 maritime patrol planes.

As of July 31 this year, information has been swapped 26 times since the agreement was forged — once in 2016, 19 times in 2017, twice in 2018 and four times this year. The spike in information exchanges in 2017 is said to be due to the series of North Korean nuclear and missile provocations amid tense relations.

But with Japan’s July 4 measures imposing restrictions on exports to South Korea of key industrial materials, Seoul has mulled options to respond. On July 18, presidential director of national security Chung Eui-yong said the government may review renewing the information-sharing pact, “depending on the situations.”

Seoul’s Defense Ministry also said such consideration is needed, for Japan “raises issues of lack of trust with (Korea) and security-related problems.”

The agreement, which is set to automatically renew annually, can be scrapped when one side chooses to end it 90 days before the end of the one-year period.

Japan has said it wants to keep the GSOMIA.

With this year’s deadline slated for Saturday, Cheong Wa Dae appears to be taking a “strategically ambiguous” stance, weighing options until the last minute.

“Better late than never: If Japan chooses the path of dialogue and cooperation, we will gladly join hands,” Moon Jae-in said Thursday, in his Liberation Day address commemorating the end of Japan’s colonial ruling of the Korean Peninsula in 1945.

Moon’s remark appears to indicate a toned down posture, acknowledging the possibilities of resolution as the trilateral meeting of foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and China is scheduled from Tuesday to Thursday in Beijing.

Bilateral trust vs. Regional alliance

While keeping his distance from affirming on any decision, the deputy chief of Cheong Wa Dae’s National Security Office Kim Hyun-chong stressed that South Korea also needs to strengthen its own power to depend less on other countries, economy- and defense-wise.

“(Boosting national defense) is to bolster the South Korea-US alliance. China has more than 30 reconnaissance satellites and Japan has eight, but we have none,” Kim said in a local radio interview on Aug. 12, adding that Korea should also launch five or 25 reconnaissance satellites.

Agreeing to the presidential official, many ruling lawmakers and left-leaning faction support abolishment of GSOMIA, believing that it does not make any sense to share confidential information with Japan, which “threatens“ Korea’s security.

”Japan lays claim to (South Korea’s) Dokdo Islets as its territory and it removes Korea from its trade whitelist, but it wants to keep GSOMIA? I believe that is just contradictory,“ four-term lawmaker Rep. Song Young-gil of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea said in a parliamentary conference on GSOMIA.

Rep. Song also raised concerns that Japan attempts to strengthen US-Japan relations, while weakening US-Korea ties.

The opponents of GSOMIA also question the efficiency of the agreement itself, claiming that there are other kinds of treaties and deals that would allow exchanging of information when needed.

”With the increasing tension, GSOMIA has gotten more attention than it should. While the information exchanged can come as useful for both sides, Korea has other ways to acquire information,“ Kim Young-jun, a professor at the Korea National Defense University said.

South Korea and Japan set the ground to exchange information when they signed the Trilateral Information-Sharing Arrangement separately with the United States in late December 2014. Via TISA, Seoul and Tokyo would have access to each others’ military information on North Korean issues shared with the United States.

But conservatives and experts supporting GSOMIA argue that the bilateral military agreement is a complex issue that involves security alliance with the United States in the region.

”The United States wants to firm up trilateral security cooperation with South Korea and Japan to keep North Korea and China in check,“ Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University said.

”If South Korea breaks GSOMIA, the US would see Seoul taking a move that is expanding the economic conflict (with Japan) to the security realm, harming Washington’s strategic interests,“ Park said.

Park also pointed out that South Korea maintains an intel-sharing agreement with Russia, even though its warplane intruded into Korea’s airspace recently without permission.

Shin Beom-chul, a senior research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, says the South Korean government would risk taking on a heavy burden in many agendas if it chooses to abolish GSOMIA, as the United States backs the deal.

The United States has refrained from actively intervening in the dispute, but has expressed its support for GSOMIA.

“The ROK-Japan GSOMIA is an important tool in our shared efforts to maintain peace and security in the region and achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,” the US Department of State official told Voice of America after the topic was raised on July 18.

“The United States fully supports the ROK-Japan GSOMIA, which demonstrates the maturity of the bilateral defense relationship and improves our ability to coordinate trilaterally.”

The public sentiment in South Korea, where the movement boycotting Japanese product has set in, appears to be leaning toward abolishing the bilateral pact with Japan.

According to local pollster Realmeter on Aug. 7, 47.7 percent of the 502 respondents supported South Korea withdrawing from GSOMIA, while 39.3 percent opposed, and 13 percent said they did not know.

Keeping away from emotional backlash

The Moon Jae-in administration still has time to make the decision until the deadline on Saturday, calculating the possible consequences and effects. As the National Security Council meeting is to be held Thursday, the final decision is likely to be made there.

Seoul’s Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo also said he was carefully reviewing options on the GSOMIA, as it is more of a matter of a relationship with the allies, than its utility.

”Instead of abolishing GSOMIA, I believe it would be a better plan for South Korea to renew the agreement and declare it will not exchange any more information with Japan,“ Cho Sung-ryul, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy said in a conference held by Rep. Kang Byung-won of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

Cho also raised the possibility of Japan taking military-related actions to fire back, such as banning Seoul from using the seven UN-designated bases located in its territory. The rear bases are to provide logistical support in the event of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


The Korea Herald
About the Author: The Korea Herald is the nation’s largest English-language daily and the country’s sole member of the Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy

Pakistan strongly condemns India’s remarks about ‘having control’ of AJK one day

The remarks were made by India’s foreign minister. India’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that Azad Jammu and Kashmir belongs to India and that he expected New Delhi to gain physical control over it one day, raising the rhetoric over the territorial dispute. In response, Pakistan strongly condemned and rejected “the inflammatory and irresponsible remarks made by the Indian External Affairs Minister regarding Pakistan and AJK”, according to a statement by the Foreign Office. The statement also called upon the international community to take note of the “aggressive posturing”. India claims the heavily populated Kashmir Valley while Pakistan has a wedge of territory in the west of the disputed region — Azad Jammu and Kashmir. “Our position on [Azad Kashmir] is, has always been and will always be very clear. [Azad Kashmir] is part of India and we expec


By Dawn
September 18, 2019

Diplomacy

Japan officially removed from South Korea’s whitelist

Seoul has threatened the move for weeks. South Korea excluded Japan from its export controls whitelist Wednesday in retaliation for Tokyo’s earlier decision to remove Seoul from its list of favored trade partners, as bilateral relations have slumped to the lowest levels since normalizing diplomatic ties in 1965. “The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy has published the revision of the nation’s trade controls on strategic items in an official gazette and it took effect from Wednesday,” said the ministry spokesperson through a statement. Since the Aug. 12 announcement by Industry Minister Sung Yun-mo that Korea would drop Japan as a preferred trading partner, the ministry has completed the necessary administrative steps, such as soliciting opinions from the public and submitting the revised rules to the Office of Legislation for review. “We have received opinions from the public throu


By The Korea Herald
September 18, 2019

Diplomacy

Beijing lauds Solomon Islands’ move to break ties with Taiwan authorities

The United States has condemned the move. China highly commends the decision of the Solomon Islands’ government to recognize the one-China principle and sever the so-called “diplomatic ties” with the Taiwan authorities, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said late on Monday. Hua’s comment came as the Pacific island nation decided earlier on Monday at a cabinet meeting that it would break the so-called “diplomatic ties” with the Taiwan authorities and establish diplomatic relationship with Beijing. Hua said in an online statement that Beijing supports the Solomon Islands’ government in “making such an important decision as a sovereign and independent country”. Beijing has made it clear that there is but one China in the world, that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government that represents the who


By China Daily
September 18, 2019

Diplomacy

S.E. Asian manufacturing sees opportunity in U.S.-China row

By Shingo Sugime and Yoichiro Tanaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondents. Southeast Asian countries are intensifying their efforts to attract companies planning to move production bases outside China, as the United States and China have become entrenched in tit-for-tat sanctions and retaliatory tariffs. To attract the needed outside investment, they are offering tax incentives and other benefits. ‘Thailand Plus’ “We see the U.S.-China trade frictions as an opportunity to expand our efforts to attract foreign companies,” Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 10. On that day, the Thai government adopted what it calls the “Thailand Plus” package of preferential measures for companies that relocate factories and other facilities from China. A corporate tax deduction of up to 50 p


By The Japan News
September 18, 2019

Diplomacy

Pyongyang confirms ready to resume talks, but gives conditions

Foreign minister confuses lawmakers on whether North Korean leader’s letter to Trump was different to one already made public. The long-stalled US-North Korea working level talks on denuclearization could take place soon, a senior North Korea official signaled in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency on Monday that also set out conditions for the resumption of dialogue. The director general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s department of American affairs said working-level talks will likely take place in a few weeks. He said the two countries may forge closer relations or hostility depend on what Washington brings to the table. But he also set out a number of conditions.


By The Korea Herald
September 17, 2019

Diplomacy

President blames China for ‘suppressing Taiwan int’l space’

The Solomon Islands is the latest country to not recognise Taiwan. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) strongly condemned Solomon Islands’ decision to establish diplomatic relations with China in a major statement released on Monday. The president blamed China for using “financial and political pressure to suppress Taiwan’s international space” and called Beijing’s action “a threat,” but also a “brazen challenge and detriment to the international order.” Taiwan’s attitude towards its diplomatic allies has been one of sincere friendship, she said, stressing that Taiwan spares “no effort” and treats allies with “sincerity.” In the face of China’s alleged interference, however, she added that “we will not stand to be threatened, nor will we be subjected to ceaseless demands.” The president also stressed that Taiwan will not engage in “dollar diplomacy” with China


By ANN Members
September 17, 2019