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Cheong Wa Dae hints at nullifying Seoul-Tokyo military pact

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Kim Hyun-chong, the second deputy director of Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office, holds a press conference in Seoul, Friday, to outline South Korea's stance on Japan's decision to over Japan's move to broaden export controls preferential trade status on Aug. 2, 2019. Yonhap
Kim Hyun-chong, the second deputy director of Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office, holds a press conference in Seoul, Friday, to outline South Korea's stance on Japan's decision to over Japan's move to broaden export controls preferential trade status on Aug. 2, 2019. Yonhap

By Jung Da-min

A senior presidential aide said Friday afternoon that Cheong Wa Dae is considering ending a military information-sharing pact with Japan as a possible countermeasure to Tokyo's decision to remove Seoul from its list of trusted partners receiving preferential treatment in trade procedures.

"The GSOMIA is an agreement to exchange confidential and tier-1 military information. Japan should think on how we can continue to do this if they don't trust us," Kim Hyun-chong, the second deputy director of the presidential National Security Office, told reporters in a briefing. GSOMIA is short for General Security Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).

The pact, signed by the two countries in 2016, is renewed every August, and a decision on whether to extend the GSOMIA is due Aug. 24. If it's not renewed by that date, the agreement expires 90 days later.

"All possible options are on the table to respond to the Japanese action. Yes, nullifying the GSOMIA is one card," the presidential aide said regarding questions on whether Cheong Wa Dae would end the agreement.

Kim said the presidential office sent two high-ranking officials to Japan last month with the aim of resolving the trade friction through diplomatic negotiations. "But Japan refused to talk about the matter. We conveyed our message that we were open to discussions on various issues, including the wartime forced laborers issue, only to be turned down by Tokyo."

The presidential aide added Washington was trying to intervene, not mediate, in the trade row urging the neighboring countries to reach a "standstill agreement," which Japan also refused to accept.

Experts said it is likely Seoul will end the GSOMIA, considering the public's growing anti-Japan sentiment. But they pointed out that walking away from the security agreement would be harmful to South Korea, too, as Japan has more assets to collect nuclear and missile-related intelligence on North Korea.

Japan operates around 110 military intelligence gathering assets, including five satellites, six Aegis destroyers, four ground-based radars and 17 early warning aircraft as well as P-3 and P-1 maritime patrol planes.

"South Korea has argued that export control measures taken by the Abe administration will greatly damage trilateral security cooperation among the U.S., Japan and South Korea in Northeast Asia so they must be halted," said Bong Young-shik, a research fellow at Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies.

"But if South Korea walks away from the GSOMIA, it will be exposed to the same criticism. South Korea walking away from the GSOMIA will greatly damage trilateral cooperation. Two wrongs don't make a right."

A cancellation of the military agreement would complicate joint efforts by the two United States allies on regional security issues specifically focusing on North Korea, which tested two "short-range missiles" the same day.

Tokyo has expressed its willingness to maintain the GSOMIA.

Cha Du-hyeogn, a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said Tokyo's support for continuing the GSOMIA was to shift the blame for any breakdown in intelligence sharing onto Seoul.

"South Korea thinks the GSOMIA is a critical card to play against the Japanese trade restrictions, which is not the case," Cha said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a trilateral meeting with Foreign Ministers Kang Kyung-wha of South Korea and Taro Kono of Japan, Friday, on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Bangkok, Thailand.

After the meeting, Kang told reporters that the U.S. expressed concern over the conflict between Seoul and Tokyo. The U.S. has reiterated the importance of cooperation among the three countries in upholding regional security.

Earlier in the day, Kang slammed Tokyo's "unilateral and arbitrary" decision to strip South Korea of its "whitelist" status of countries with preferential trade status at the ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers' Meeting. Kang said South Korea was "gravely concerned" by Japan's move that poses a challenge to the region's goal of expanding the free flow of trade and commerce.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wah poses for a photo with her U.S. and Japanese counterparts after a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday. To Kang's right are U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono. Yonhap
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wah poses for a photo with her U.S. and Japanese counterparts after a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday. To Kang's right are U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono. Yonhap

Kang Kyung-wha, right, and Taro Kono, left, of Japan, look away from each other as Wang Yi of China, second from left, and Don Pramudwinai of Thailand pose during the ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday. Kang hinted at revising the Korea-Japan intelligence-sharing pact, Thursday, over Japan's move to broaden export restrictions aimed at Korean companies. Yonhap
Kang Kyung-wha, right, and Taro Kono, left, of Japan, look away from each other as Wang Yi of China, second from left, and Don Pramudwinai of Thailand pose during the ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday. Kang hinted at revising the Korea-Japan intelligence-sharing pact, Thursday, over Japan's move to broaden export restrictions aimed at Korean companies. Yonhap



Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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