Members of civic groups chant slogans at the beginning of a 24-hour emergency protest against the signing of the bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan
The South Korean government is planning to officially sign the bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan on Nov. 23. The opposition parties, which are accusing President Park Geun-hye of using security-related issues to help her escape from her political crisis, are demanding that the government immediately stop the proceedings.
“We’re planning to sign the information-sharing agreement with Japan as soon as the cabinet meeting votes in favor of it tomorrow [Nov. 22] and Park gives her approval,” said a senior official with South Korea’s Defense Ministry on Nov. 21. “The signing is scheduled to take place on Nov. 23,” he added.
Park was originally supposed to preside over the cabinet meeting on the morning of Nov. 22, but after prosecutors identified Park as a suspect in its announcement of the interim findings in an ongoing investigation, the Blue House changed its plans to put the prime minister in charge of the cabinet meeting. But since Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will not be returning to South Korea from the APEC summit in Peru until the afternoon of Nov. 22, the plan is for the next ranking cabinet member - Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategy and Finance Yoo Il-ho - to head up the meeting.
The opposition has protested furiously. “If President Park is attempting to use this agreement to show other countries that she is still in control, let us be clear: this is a dangerous game that could jeopardize our country’s security. Park must immediately stop this slapdash agreement that could cause public sentiment, which is already spreading like wildfire, to erupt like a volcano,” said Yun Gwak-seok, senior spokesperson for the Minjoo Party in a statement.
On Monday, opposition party lawmakers in the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee asked for the committee to be convened to adopt a resolution calling for the agreement to be rejected, but Rep. Kim Yeong-woo, a Saenuri Party lawmaker who chairs the committee, demurred, insisting on the “priority of deliberations between the ruling and opposition parties.” On Nov. 30, the three opposition parties are planning to submit a joint resolution demanding the dismissal of Defense Minister Han Min-koo. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who is a member of the Minjoo Party, will reportedly attend the cabinet meeting on Nov. 22 to criticize the signing of the agreement.
The agreement will be signed by South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine at the main office of South Korea’s Defense Ministry in Seoul. Once the agreement has been signed and copies have been sent to both countries, it will immediately take effect. The transmission of the written copies is a diplomatic signal that the legal conditions are in place for the agreement to acquire force.
This agreement will be signed less than one month after the Defense Ministry announced on Oct. 27 that it would be resuming negotiations toward reaching an information-sharing agreement with Japan. Even as the Choi Sun-sil scandal raged, the government and the Blue House pushed the agreement through in the teeth of fierce opposition from the opposition parties and from civic society. The agreement also goes against public opinion: a poll released by Gallup Korea on Nov. 18 found that opposition to the agreement (59%) outweighed support (31%) by nearly two to one.
When asked during the regular briefing on the morning of Nov. 21 about how the political instability in South Korea would affect the agreement, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosihide Suga said, “At any rate, it’s very important for Japan and South Korea to work together to cooperate on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. The Japanese government wants to further promote the security of Japan and South Korea by quickly signing this agreement, and we think that South Korea is also moving forward [with signing this agreement] for the same reasons.”
The officials who are signing the agreement are not equal in rank: a minister for South Korea, but just an ambassador for Japan. “
Diplomatically speaking, an ambassador is an ’envoy extraordinaire and minister plenipotentiary‘ who represents the government that sent him. As such, he has full powers to sign an agreement with a country that receives him. This should not be a problem, since there is precedent for it: in June 2012, the Japanese Foreign Minister and the South Korean Ambassador to Japan were supposed to sign the agreement,” said an official at the Defense Ministry.
By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent
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