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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 16)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:02 June 16, 2022

Mend ties with Japan
Seoul, Tokyo need to step up security cooperation

Foreign Minister Park Jin has underlined the need to strengthen security cooperation with Japan while mending soured ties with the East Asian neighbor sooner rather than later. For this, he has called for real progress in sharing military intelligence between the two countries under the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).

"We want GSOMIA to be normalized as soon as possible together with the improvement of Korea-Japan relations," Park said during a press conference after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, D.C., Monday. What is encouraging is that Japanese Defense Minister Noburo Kishi welcomed Park's suggestion, expressing hope for "smoother operation" of the pact.

In a rare move for security cooperation between the two countries, the GSOMIA was signed in 2016 to jointly tackle North Korea's military threats. Yet, the agreement has remained precarious since August 2019 when South Korea decided to terminate it in protest of Japan's export curbs on key materials essential for the production of semiconductors and display panels while excluding Seoul from its list of preferred trading partners.

The Japanese move came in an apparent retaliation of the Korean Supreme Court's 2018 decision ordering Japanese companies to compensate surviving South Korean victims of wartime forced labor. Though the Moon administration retracted its decision to end GSOMIA in September 2019 apparently at the request of the United States, the pact has remained in the doldrums.

Park's call for the active implementation of the pact is in line with President Yoon Suk-yeol's efforts for better relations with Japan. Expectations are growing over Yoon's possible meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Spain on the sidelines of a NATO summit slated for June 29 and 30 to discuss diverse pending issues such as security cooperation.

We hope the two leaders will have a one-on-one meeting in Madrid to narrow their differences over various knotty issues, thus laying the groundwork for a future-oriented partnership between Seoul and Tokyo. This is all the more significant as geopolitical tensions have been on the rise on the Korean Peninsula, prompted by North Korea's continued launches of ballistic missiles including ICBMs. Speculation has been increasing that the North will conduct its seventh nuclear test soon.

South Korea has been seeking to utilize the so-called Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) along with the deployment of U.S. strategic assets here to better respond to North Korea's military provocations. Still there are obstacles to Japan's proactive role in thwarting the threats from the North.

In a positive move, defense ministers of the three countries agreed to carry out joint military exercises in early August in Hawaii to enhance missile tracking and detecting capabilities, thus building up deterrence against possible North Korean attacks. Given the mounting security threats, both Seoul and Tokyo should double down on mending their ties. A full-fledged utilization of the GSOMIA will be the first step toward that end.
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