|Former Korean Ambassador to Japan Shin Kak-soo poses at a cafe in Seocho-gu, Seoul, on Aug. 12, during an interview with The Korea Times. Korea Times photo by Do Je-hae|
By Do Je-hae
Former Korean Ambassador to Japan Shin Kak-soo has cautioned against some calls to scrap a military information-sharing pact with Japan as a response to a series of trade restrictions imposed on Seoul since early July.
Seoul is expected to announce its position on extending the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) later this week before it expires on Aug. 24. "GSOMIA has a huge symbolic implication," Shin said during a recent interview with The Korea Times. "It is an important component of the Korea-U.S.-Japan system of crisis management on the Korean Peninsula."
The former top envoy to Japan underlined that Korea needs the pact more than Japan. "Japan has more confidential military information on the Korean Peninsula than Korea," he said. He stressed that they have more advanced equipment that processes accurate information on North Korea's continued provocations. There has been speculation that Seoul has raised the possibility of repealing GSOMIA as a way of getting U.S. attention in the Korea-Japan conflict. "If the decision to scrap GSOMIA is actually made, however, it will be a suicidal move."
The remarks came amid some criticisms against the Moon Jae-in administration's response to the trade feud with Japan, which is rooted in a long-running bilateral conflict over the two countries' shared history. Tokyo has cited the need for stricter export management and security concerns in justifying its recent trade restrictions on Seoul, but President Moon Jae-in and many Koreans view them as "economic retaliation" for 2018 Supreme Court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate surviving South Korean victims of wartime forced labor during the Japanese colonial rule. "From the Japanese perspective, this is unacceptable," Shin said. Tokyo continues to claim that the 1965 Korea-Japan treaty settled all colonial-era compensation completely and permanently.
As a way to ease the escalating Korea-Japan conflict, Shin urged the Moon administration to come up with a "compromise formula" to resolve the issue of compensation for forced laborers during the Japanese occupation. In June, about eight months after the Supreme Court ruling, Seoul proposed creating a fund for the victims through the participation of companies from both countries, but Tokyo refused to consider it. "Seoul should suggest a cooperative scheme consisting of the Korean government and companies in addition to the Japanese companies. I am not sure if Japan will accept the suggestion, but from my point of view, it could be the start of negotiations."
The career diplomat served as Korean ambassador to Japan from 2011 to 2013 and is considered one of the most recognized analysts on Korea-Japan relations. He pointed out that the Korean government is lacking a long-term perspective on Japan. He called Japan a "natural strategic partner" that is indispensable to Korea. "If Korea-Japan relations worsen, we will suffer greater damage," Shin said. "We need a stern response to Japan's faults, but we also need a cool-headed approach."
In particular, he noted that maintaining good relations with Japan is the key to overcoming Korea's grave geopolitical situation facing various challenges from the U.S., China and North Korea and assuaging the rising concerns over Korea's diplomatic isolation. "We need diplomacy that makes friends," Shin said. "It will be our loss if we disregard Japan due to historical issues. Worsening Korea-Japan relations will also have a very negative impact on Korea-U.S. and Korea-China relations."
There have been rising calls to reconsider the 1965 Korea-Japan basic treaty on which both countries have maintained differing interpretations, particularly on the legal character of Japanese rule of Korea. "The treaty is not complete," Shin said. "The external environment surrounding Korea-Japan relations has also changed. Therefore, adjustments are necessary to complement the flaws through negotiations with Japan."
Shin also urged Koreans to discard their "victim mentality." "We are living in the 21st century," he said. "We are not a small country economically. We cannot grow if we keep holding on to the sense of being victimized."