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PM hints at flexibility on GSOMIA

Japan set on course for trade-curbing measures

Seoul could reconsider its decision on the General Security of Military Information Agreement if Japan reverts “unjust measures,” Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Tuesday.

This is the second time in as many days that Lee has spoken of the possibility, in an apparent message to Tokyo. 

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon speaks at the meeting with ruling Democratic Party lawmakers in Seoul on Tuesday. Yonhap
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon speaks at the meeting with ruling Democratic Party lawmakers in Seoul on Tuesday. Yonhap

“There are about three months until Nov. 23, when GSOMIA expires. I think it is possible that a solution could be found in that time, and Japan’s unjust measures could be reversed and we could review (the decision) to end GSOMIA,” Lee said, speaking at a high-level policy meeting between government and ruling Democratic Party of Korea members.

Lee did, however, stress that sharing military information with Japan is not in Korea’s national interest when Japan has decided to remove Korea from its whitelist of privileged trade partners.

“The Japanese government will enforce (the revised) Export Trade Control Order from tomorrow. I have faith that the Japanese government will not aggravate the situation further. If (Japan) does not make the situation worse, the governments of the two countries could resolve the situation.”

The Export Trade Control Order is the Japanese trade regulation that was revised on Aug. 2 to exclude South Korea from the list of countries receiving preferential treatment in importing Japanese goods. The revised regulation is set to take effect Wednesday.

Tuesday’s comments echo those from the previous day, when Lee told lawmakers that he thinks it would be advisable for Seoul to reconsider the decision if Japan reverted its trade-curbing measures.

Cheong Wa Dae announced the decision to forgo renewing GSOMIA on Thursday, saying Japan’s trade retaliations have brought “fundamental changes to the environment for security cooperation.”

While the Korean prime minister stresses the possibility of GSOMIA being renewed, Japan is said to be set on course to see the whitelist removal through.

Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko told reporters on Tuesday that the changes “will be implemented solemnly” following a cabinet meeting.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, meanwhile, continued to accuse Seoul of damaging relations.

Speaking at the G-7 Summit in Biarritz, France, Abe claimed that Seoul’s decision to end GSOMIA was a “response that damages trust” between two countries. He also claimed that Seoul was allowing developments that damage the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. The treaty normalized relations between the two countries, and Japan claims that any compensation due to Koreans who suffered wrongs during Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation was covered by the treaty.

Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the claims, and again urged Japan to retract trade-curbing measures.

“The government has consistently called for a quick retraction of Japan’s trade regulations, and conveyed that dialogue is needed to resolve the issue, and will continue to do so,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said.

Although some time remains before GSOMIA becomes invalid, Japan’s unchanging stance on the trade measures bodes ill for Seoul’s apparent strategy in the latest Korea-Japan spat.

Ending the military intelligence agreement was first suggested by Korean lawmakers as leverage against Japan. Japanese officials had stressed the need for the agreement to be maintained on a number of occasions – despite the Abe government’s claims that Seoul was unreliable in security issues.

Seoul, in contrast, has hinted that the pact has played a noncritical role in its defense posture against North Korea.

According to Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense, military information was shared with Japan on 29 occasions between GSOMIA’s signing in 2016 up to Thursday’s decision. Japan also requested information following North Korea’s latest weapon’s test Saturday.

Cheong Wa Dae has also since said that South Korea has not used information provided by Japan in analyzing North Korean missiles under the Moon Jae-in administration.

Seoul’s move has incited concerns from both Japan and the US.

Following the announcement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that he was “disappointed” by the decision, a remark that was followed by a series of similar statements from US officials.

US Department of State spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus echoed Pompeo and added that GSOMIA’s termination would make defense of Korea “more complicated and increase risk to US forces," in a Twitter post.

Such statements have been taken by some here as Washington pressuring Seoul into revoking the decision, and even using it as a leverage in the upcoming defense cost-sharing negotiations.

By Choi He-suk (