|Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, right, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper shake hands before their talks at the Ministry of National Defense in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Aug. 9. The two will meet next week for the 51st Special Consultative Meeting (SCM), an annual defense ministerial summit, at Seoul's defense ministry, Nov. 15. Korea Times photo by Seo Jae-hoon.|
President Moon to meet party leaders, Sunday
By Jung Da-min, Kim Yoo-chul
Criticism is growing over Washington's pressure on Seoul to renew a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, as Japan remains cool to the idea of a Seoul-Tokyo summit and mum over any reciprocal efforts to build momentum in bilateral and trilateral relations.
Ahead of the official deadline to extend the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) on Nov. 23, senior U.S. government officials met with presidential aides, lawmakers and high-ranking government officials and asked them to renew the pact.
Seoul's decision to terminate the pact followed Japan's "retaliatory" trade restrictions against South Korean Supreme Court's order last year to some Japanese firms to compensate surviving South Korean victims of forced labor during the 1910-45 Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
"What makes the situation worse is that Washington is moving actively to defend its national interest. Given the decades-long military alliance between Seoul and Washington, the U.S.' pressing on Seoul over GSOMIA and defense-cost sharing issues would damage the alliance. Whether or not to extend the GSOMIA is actually an issue of mutual trust," a senior lawmaker at the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) told The Korea Times. He added Seoul wants a healthier relationship with Japan.
"Before the GSOMIA deadline, it's not too late for Seoul to reverse course. Before applying an exit strategy, Japan and the United States should send a message to Seoul that the extension will help South Korea address the current Seoul-Tokyo feud," the lawmaker said by telephone.
Presidential aides said the GSOMIA will be replaced with the 2014 Trilateral Information-Sharing Arrangement (TISA), which enables Seoul and Tokyo to pass information to each other through the U.S. as an intermediary.
On Sunday, President Moon will meet the chiefs of the major political parties at Cheong Wa Dae to discuss key pending issues. The South Korean leader is expected to hold review sessions over the GSOMIA and defense cost-sharing issues, party sources said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is expected ask his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo to extend the GSOMIA during his stay in Seoul, next week. The 51st Special Consultative Meeting (SCM) will be held Nov. 15 at the ministry's Yongsan headquarters.
The defense ministry said the GSOMIA issue will be touched upon but reiterated the South Korean government's position by saying no extension will come unless Japan first withdraws trade restrictions against South Korea.
U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters in a regular briefing, Friday morning (KST), that Esper will "address the GSOMIA issue" during his trip to Seoul. Hoffman said the U.S. is "hopeful" and "optimistic" over the matter and will "continue to push on."
"It's something that we would like to see resolved, so that all of us can focus on the biggest threats in the region, which is North Korea's activities and then the Chinese efforts to destabilize the region," Hoffman said.
The Korea-U.S. defense cost-sharing negotiations will also be discussed during next week's SCM. Seoul's defense ministry said it would tell the U.S. side that the cost-sharing should be settled at a level that is "reasonable and equitable," if the issue is brought into the discussions.
While the U.S. is rumored to have asked the South Korean side to pay about $5 billion (5.8 trillion won), public opinion is against such a "steep" increase, with civil organizations staging protests against the U.S. request. Defense chiefs also plan to talk about the specifics of possible three-way talks involving Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono during the upcoming Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) meeting to be held in Bangkok, Thailand, just a few days before the official ending of the GSOMIA.
Other issues surrounding the alliance between the two countries will be discussed during the SCM, including the conditions-based transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON), the return of U.S. military bases to South Korea and security cooperation in the future.
The Military Committee Meeting (MCM), a meeting between the chairmen of the South Korean and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, would come a day before the SCM, the ministry said.