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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 5)

All Headlines 07:00 November 05, 2019

U.S. siding with Japan
GSOMIA case reveals how tricky 3-way security ties are

U.S. diplomats are increasingly voicing concerns about South Korea's decision to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), a military intelligence-sharing pact it signed with Japan in 2016.

With the pact scheduled to expire Nov. 23, U.S. diplomats have suggested that Seoul reverse its decision not to renew the deal, describing it as a symbol of trilateral security cooperation among Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.

It is regrettable to see the U.S. siding with Japan in an acute diplomatic issue between its two Asian allies. Given it was a decision South Korea made as a sovereign nation to protect its national interest in the context of the present relations with Japan amid a rising conflict over historical issues, few Koreans may believe the U.S. is acting fairly in dealing with the allies over this problem. Simply put, the decision was based on Seoul's conclusion that extending the GSOMIA was not in the national interest at the moment. It reflected the South's judgment that bilateral security cooperation with Japan was not possible ― and only tricky ― as long as it remains unrepentant about what it did to Koreans during the 1910-45 colonial period.

Seeing recent remarks from U.S. diplomats, however, they appears to have the impression that the South's decision was biased, impulsive and short-sighted. It seems as if they were ignorant of South Korea's sovereign rights. In particular, they have increasingly used Japanese media to express their discomfort toward the South's decision and call for its retraction. This is not good.

Marc Knapper, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, said in a recent interview with Japan's Nihon Keizai Shimbun that Seoul should retain the GSOMIA despite its soured relations with Japan. He said only China, Russia and North Korea are happy with the situation, describing the pact as an important tool for trilateral security cooperation in times of crisis.

Joseph Young, charge d'affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Japan, also told Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun recently that the U.S. has delivered its position to South Korea that ending the intelligence pact would have an impact on U.S. security interests, suggesting that the South should reverse its decision.

The quotes were published ahead of top U.S. diplomat David Stilwell's planned visit to Seoul Tuesday. During his stay in Japan last week, Stilwell urged South Korea to reconsider its GSOMIA decision, saying it was beneficial to both Seoul and Tokyo. However, he made it clear that Washington did not intend to intervene in the row between Seoul and Tokyo, giving the de facto cold shoulder to Seoul, which has been seeking U.S. mediation in the friction with Japan.

On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a brief one-on-one meeting in Bangkok in a "very serious and friendly" mood on the sidelines of the ongoing ASEAN forum, according to Cheong Wa Dae. Moon reportedly proposed high-level consultations between Seoul and Tokyo to resolve pressing bilateral issues, including Seoul's plan to end the GSOMIA and Tokyo's export curbs on Seoul.

Japan should not avoid holding dialogue with South Korea. About three weeks are left until the GSOMIA expires. How the two countries handle this crucial period may affect their future relations ― and the direction of the U.S.-led three-way security partnership.


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