President Yoon Suk-yeol on Tuesday criticized North Korea for making nuclear threats against the world, saying there is nothing to be gained through nuclear weapons. Yoon also vowed to establish solid security cooperation with the US and Japan amid growing criticism from the opposition party.
North Korea has launched ballistic missiles 23 times and cruise missiles twice this year, with 11 missile launches since Yoon took office in May.
“As North Korea continues to develop and upgrade its nuclear weapons, it is threatening not only South Korea, but the world with nuclear weapons,” Yoon told reporters on Tuesday morning. “(North Korea) has nothing to gain from nuclear weapons.”
When asked whether South Korea is considering the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, Yoon said, "I've said this many times. It’s not a matter that a president expresses publicly. (We are) listening to and examining various opinions of Korea and the US.”
As for concerns and the opposition party’s criticism on increasing Korea-Japan military cooperation, Yoon said, “What concerns can be justified in the face of (North Korea’s) nuclear threat?” He added, “I think the wise public will make a good judgment.”
The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea continued to urge the National Assembly to suspend military and security cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan, and its party leader Lee Jae-myung continued to publicly criticize the joint drills.
Lee again said on Tuesday at the party’s emergency security meeting, "We must stop self-inflicted efforts to bring Japan into the Korean Peninsula using the (security) crisis as an excuse."
"It is a defense disaster that cannot be overlooked and is an act of self-injury to security,” he said.
Lee said it send a signal that Korea recognizes the Japanese Self-Defense Force as an official military force. “It could be a stepping-stone to a South Korea-US-Japan military alliance. It acts against the national interest of Korea.”
Some experts say it is too far to say that the military cooperation constitutes a drill between Korea and Japan alone.
Choi Eun-mi, an associate research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy, said, “It was a joint exercise under the cooperation of South Korea, the US and Japan. It feels a little bit more out of line to say that it is a military cooperation between Korea and Japan.”
Normalization of GSOMIA
As the level of North Korea's provocations increases, military cooperation with Japan, which South Korea has a thorny relation due to historical issues, is also being strengthened.
Following North Korea's successive ballistic missile provocations, Yoon discussed security issues in a phone call with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday. The two leaders condemned North Korea's missiles as a serious provocation and shared the view that South Korea and Japan are partners to cooperate on various issues.
As Korea-Japan military cooperation increases, expectations for the normalization of the General Security of Military Information Agreement also rise. The GSOMIA, which was signed by the former Park Geun-hye administration in November 2016, is a military agreement between South Korea and Japan to share nuclear and missile information about the North Korean military. During the previous Moon Jae-in administration, the agreement came to the brink of abolition due to issues involving Japan's wartime sexual slavery and 2019 export restrictions. The agreement was sustained due to "conditional suspension" through US arbitration.
The GSOMIA continues to operate because neither side has said that it will be terminated. "Even now, sufficient information exchange is taking place between Korea and Japan," a spokesperson of the presidential office told The Korea Herald.
However, both foreign and defense ministers said in June and August, respectively, that they would normalize GSOMIA.
“Normalizing GSOMIA means removing such a condition and returning it to the original state,” Choi said. In 2019, it was conditionally extended under the condition that it could be canceled anytime.
“GSOMIA, which is information exchange, is the lowest level of military cooperation,” she said. “Some people even talk about the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements, ACSA, which is the next level, but it seems difficult for us to talk about that now.”