Ending GSOMIA can determine nation's future
South Korea has refused to renew a bilateral agreement it signed with Japan in 2016 to share sensitive military information, citing "grave changes" made to their security relations by Tokyo's unilateral export restrictions of strategic industrial materials.
Announcing the decision, Thursday, Cheong Wa Dae said it doesn't serve the national interest to maintain the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan under the current circumstances. Japan expressed "extreme regret" over the decision while the United States, which had called for an extension of the agreement, also showed disappointment. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a news conference that the shared interests of the two countries are important to the U.S. and expressed hope that Korea and Japan could begin to put their relationship "back in exactly the right place."
It is unclear how the decision will affect the bilateral security cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo because it is unknown what types of information they had exchanged under the deal - and how much they need each other for intelligence activities over threats from North Korea, China or Russia. But it has at least one underlying message to Japan: It is time to re-define bilateral relations based on a correct understanding of history.
This is because what is happening between the two neighbors is basically a history war. Japan's trade measures are widely viewed as retaliation against the South Korean Supreme Court ruling last October that ordered Japanese firms to compensate victims of forced labor during World War II, although Japan has denied this link.
We believe pulling the plug on the GSOMIA was a strategic decision made by the Moon Jae-in administration in consideration of the changing security environment in Northeast Asia to maximize the nation's interest in the long term. It is also understandable because South Korea and Japan cannot share the same strategic interests as long as the latter holds ambitions to revive the "past glories" of Imperial Japan.
But the decision will inevitably damage the security interests of the U.S., which regards closer Seoul-Tokyo ties as crucial for its broader security strategy in the region, especially in the face of a rising China. But the U.S. should know that the trilateral security cooperation is only fragile if Japan is not repentant about its past wrongdoings.
In fact, Seoul's primary concern in discarding the GSOMIA was Washington because it could damage the alliance. South Korea should spare no effort to seek its understanding of its geopolitical position, and why maintaining security cooperation with Japan is impossible at this moment.
What is equally worrisome is that the decision could give the wrong signal to North Korea. It is important to keep the door open for dialogue with Japan, and maintain a strong defense posture vis-a-vis possible attempts by the North as well as China and Russia to test the nation's alliance with the U.S.
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