See More on Facebook


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


Wuhan virus: China locks down five cities at epicentre of outbreak

Move to curb virus’ spread across world comes as experts race to crack its code. China has taken the unprecedented move of locking down cities at the heart of a new Sars-like outbreak that has spread swiftly across provinces and the world, killing at least 17 and infecting more than 630. In a dramatic effort to curb the sweep of the mutating virus, officials in Wuhan announced at midnight on Wednesday that the city, where the mystery coronavirus originated last month in a wet market that sold live animals, was being sealed off. Last night, the authorities in the surrounding cities of Huanggang, Ezhou, Chibi and Xiantao in the same Hubei province in central China also imposed travel restrictions. The toughest measures were taken in Huanggang, where

By The Straits Times
January 24, 2020


New coronavirus cases rise to 571 in Chinese mainland

China’s National Health Commission said cases of the new coronavirus pneumonia disease rose to 571 on the Chinese mainland as of Wednesday midnight, including 95 in critical condition, and fatalities rose to 17,  on Thursday morning. Latest on pneumonia epidemic: Cases of the new coronavirus pneumonia disease rose to 571 on the Chinese mainland as of Wednesday midnight, including 95 in critical condition, and fatalities rose to 17, China’s National Health Commission said on Thursday morning. In addition, 393 suspected cases were reported as of Wednesday midnight. All the reported deaths were in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. Outside the mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan each confirmed one case.

By China Daily
January 23, 2020


Strictest measures enacted to contain viral pneumonia in China

As the pathogen continues to spread, the strictest prevention and control measures are being adopted by the Chinese health authorities for the new strain of coronavirus that has caused a pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan. Chinese health authorities are adopting the strictest prevention and control measures for the new strain of coronavirus that has caused a pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei province, as the pathogen continues to spread. On Monday, 77 new confirmed cases of the virus — 2019-nCoV — were reported on the Chinese mainland, bringing the total number of confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland to 291, six of whom died, the National Health Commission said on Tuesday afternoon. Among the new cases, 72 were reported in Hubei province, two in Shanghai a

By China Daily
January 22, 2020


Wuhan virus: China confirms human-to-human transmission, says medical workers infected

China’s health commission said on Monday (Jan 20)  that medical workers have been infected by the deadly coronavirus first discovered in the central city of Wuhan, confirming it can be transmitted between people. “The current situation is that it is no longer animal to human transmission, but human to human,” said Chinese pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan, who discovered the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) coronavirus in 2003 and now heads an expert panel under the health commission. He cited a case in Guangdong, where the patient had not been to Wuhan but caught the virus from a family member. Dr Zhong also said 14 medical personnel helping with coronavirus patients have been infected by one carrier. “The key to controlling the spread o

By The Straits Times
January 21, 2020


Trump invites Asean leaders, including Duterte, to summit in US

Donald Trump, the US President has invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and 11 other leaders of the Asean to a summit to be held in Las Vegas in March. US President Donald Trump has invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and 11 other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to a summit to be held in Las Vegas in March. “The invitation was first conveyed during the Asean-US meeting at the Asean Summit and related summits in Bangkok last November. The United States then reiterated its invitation through a letter dated Jan. 9, 2020,”the Palace said. The Palace also released a copy of Trump’s letter to the Asean leaders dated Nov. 1, given during last year’s Asean summit in Bangkok. “I would also like

By Philippine Daily Inquirer
January 20, 2020


North Korea beefs up self-defense capabilities in military reorganization

The North have been making many changes ahead of talks. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a meeting of the top military decision-making body to accelerate the development of self-defense capabilities ahead of key events that will decide its national strategy, its state media reported Sunday. Discussions on ways to bolster its military capabilities through organizational restructuring and personnel reshuffle were highlighted during the third expanded meeting of the seventh central military commission of the ruling Workers’ Party. Details on what measures were discussed were not disclosed. “At the meeting, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un

By The Korea Herald
December 23, 2019