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Security cooperation still possible even after GSOMIA ends, says Moon

As an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan is set to expire at midnight Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in underscored that Tokyo has given Seoul just cause to terminate the agreement.

Speaking at a televised question-and-answer session Tuesday, Moon also said he would work until the last minute with Japan to avoid the termination of the 2016 General Security of Military Information Agreement -- but that Tokyo still has to act first to normalize trade.

In August, Korea announced its decision to pull out from GSOMIA after Tokyo imposed a series of export curbs against Seoul, citing lack of trust.

“Japan provided the cause (for the termination),” Moon said in the televised session with 300 selected civilians in attendance. “It is contradictory for it to ask to share military information, when it says it cannot trust South Korea in the security realm.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)

He also said it was a “matter of course” for Korea to pull out from the military agreement, but that Korea would continue to cooperate with Japan on security.

Korea views Japan’s export restrictions -- which affect some of its key industrial materials -- as retaliation against a Korean Supreme Court ruling in October 2018 that Japanese companies are obliged to compensate Korean victims of wartime forced labor.

With the expiration date drawing near, the United States, which played a major role in facilitating the agreement, has been pressuring its two Asian allies to resolve their differences and renew the agreement.

Top-ranking US officials traveled to Seoul last week to call for the renewal of the intelligence-sharing pact. On Tuesday, US Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris blamed Seoul, saying it had brought its differences with Tokyo into the security realm.

“Korea elevated it into the security realm and that affects us. So, now it affects the US and our ability to defend Korea, and puts our troops at risk ... so that is why we reacted quickly and strongly in expressing disappointment at Seoul’s decision,” Harris said in an interview with Yonhap.

“The United States fully supports the ROK-Japan GSOMIA and we certainly hope strongly that both countries can overcome their disagreements,” he said. ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name.

A possible backup for GSOMIA is the existing Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement signed by Korea, the US and Japan in 2014. Via TISA, Seoul and Tokyo can share military information through the US. Nevertheless, concerns remain that TISA may not be as efficient or fast enough, in times of contingencies.

At a parliamentary hearing Tuesday, Vice Defense Minister Park Jae-min denied a Japanese news report that the government was reviewing the revision of TISA to reinforce information-sharing with Japan.

Meanwhile, public sentiment on the intelligence-sharing pact differs in Korea and Japan.

According to local pollster Realmeter, 55.4 percent of 501 Korean respondents said GSOMIA should be renewed, while 33.2 percent said it should be abolished. In Japan, however, more than 68 percent of 1,000 respondents to a joint poll conducted by Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun and broadcaster FNN said Japan should not have to change its export controls against Korea, even if it means GSOMIA is terminated. Only 14.4 percent said the information-sharing agreement should be renewed.

Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said Korea’s decision to end GSOMIA would hurt the trust relationship with the US.

“While it may not immediately bring significant changes in the alliance between South Korea and the US, it would hurt the trust relationship, and that can ultimately lead to more serious consequences,” Shin told The Korea Herald.

“The US sees GSOMIA as part of its Indo-Pacific Strategy to (maintain a firm) trilateral security alliance with South Korea and Japan. The US may receive the decision as South Korea’s rejection for cooperation in the trilateral alliance.”

By Jo He-rim (
Korea Herald Youtube