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S. Korean, Japanese defense chiefs set to hold talks ahead of GSOMIA expiry

Defense 09:09 November 17, 2019

By Oh Seok-min

BANGKOK, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- The defense chiefs of South Korea and Japan were to hold a one-on-one meeting in Thailand on Sunday, just days before the planned expiry of their intelligence-sharing pact, the defense ministry said.

The meeting between Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, will take place later in the day in the Thai capital of Bangkok on the sidelines of the 6th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus).

It will be the first meeting between the defense ministers of the two neighbors since South Korea announced its decision to end the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in August. The three-year-old pact will expire Saturday.

Following the bilateral meeting, Jeong and Kono are scheduled to join U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in the afternoon for trilateral talks, according to the ministry.

The termination decision was followed by Japan's export curbs on Seoul, citing security concerns, which is seen as political retaliation for last year's Korean Supreme Court rulings against Japanese firms over wartime forced labor.

Japan wants to maintain the pact, and the United States has also called for its renewal. But South Korea has maintained the stance that any reconsideration would only be possible if Japan first changes its course.

As the deadline draws near, Sunday's meetings could practically be the last chance for South Korea and Japan to seek a breakthrough regarding the issue.

Japan, however, has not showed signs of retracting its export restrictions against the South. According to Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun on Sunday, Japan has notified the U.S. of its decision not to accede to South Korea's demand.

Under the circumstances, what role the U.S. can play also draws attention.

During a joint press conference with Jeong after their bilateral talks in Seoul on Friday, Esper called on his two Asian allies to "sit down and work through differences," as the termination of the key security tool would only benefit North Korea and China.

Jeong last met his Japanese counterpart in Singapore in June, and the trilateral meeting among the top defense officials from the three countries was also held in June.

South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo (R) and Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine sign the General Security of Military Information Agreement on the sharing of military intelligence on North Korea during a ceremony at the Defense Ministry in Seoul on Nov. 23, 2016, in this photo released by the ministry. (Yonhap)

On Sunday, the South Korean defense minister is also scheduled to hold bilateral talks with his counterparts from China, New Zealand, Indonesia and Thailand to explore ways to deepen their defense ties, the ministry said.

The two-day multilateral event, set to run until Monday, brings together high-level defense officials from ASEAN countries and eight member states -- South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and India, according to the ministry.

During a plenary session Monday, Jeong will deliver a speech on the government's peace process involving North Korea and ask for international support for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the push to turn the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into a peace zone, the ministry said.

In his address during the U.N. General Assembly session in New York in September, President Moon Jae-in proposed turning the DMZ that separates the two Koreas into a global peace zone, saying the plan will provide an institutional and realistic guarantee of North Korea's security.

ADMM-Plus was launched in 2010 to benefit participating countries to build capacity to better address shared security challenges and promote mutual trust and confidence, according to its organizer. It had been held every two or three years. Then from last year, it became an annual event.

This AP photo shows protesters holding a candlelight vigil to demand the abolishment of the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, an intelligence-sharing agreement between South Korea and Japan, near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Nov. 16, 2019. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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