[Editorial] Key to solving GSOMIA issue is within Japanese government, not S. Korea’s

Posted on : 2019-11-14 16:47 KST Modified on : 2019-11-14 16:47 KST
US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet in Tokyo on Nov. 12.
US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet in Tokyo on Nov. 12.

In the countdown to the termination of South Korea and Japan’s General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), the US is ratcheting up pressure on South Korea to extend it. US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley arrived in South Korea on Nov. 13; he will be joined by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Nov. 14.

While the agenda of the South Korea-US Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), scheduled for the following day, is supposed to deal with assessing joint defense readiness and returning wartime operational control of South Korean troops (OPCON) to Seoul, current circumstances suggest that GSOMIA will be the hottest item on the agenda. The South Korean government needs to stick to its guns and boldly stand up to American pressure about extending GSOMIA.

The US has been pulling out all the stops to pressure South Korea on this issue. David Stilwell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, pushed hard for extending GSOMIA while meeting with South Korean government officials during a visit last week.

While Milley was touring Japan and South Korea, he described GSOMIA as being “key for security and stability in the region” and stressed unity between South Korea, the US, and Japan. After discussing GSOMIA during a personal meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Milley expressed his hope that a solution would be found before GSOMIA is scrapped.

Robert Abrams, commander of US Forces Korea, also stated publicly that terminating GSOMIA could send the “wrong message” to Korea’s neighbors. In short, not only top officials at the US State Department but also American military leaders have been mobilized for the pressure campaign to extend GSOMIA.

But what the US needs to realize is that it was Japan that provided the rationale for ending GSOMIA. It was Japan that imposed export controls on South Korea on the grounds that Korea is not a country that can be trusted for security reasons. It doesn’t make sense to receive critical security information from such a country. The South Korean government’s decision to end GSOMIA is an appropriate response to Japan’s unjustified economic retribution.

Nevertheless, the US only appears to be pressuring South Korea while keeping its mouth shut about Japan’s provocations. Such behavior not only disregards the courtesy South Korea deserve as an ally but also degrades the value of that alliance.

The South Korean government has already said several times that it’s willing to reconsider its decision to terminate GSOMIA if Japan retracts its unfair export controls. The US needs to give some careful thought to the determination of the South Korean government and public. The key to resolving the GSOMIA issues lies not with the South Korean government but with the Japanese government.

Pressuring Seoul and coddling Tokyo cannot lead to a workable solution; in fact, it will only make the South Korean public take a dimmer view of sharing military intelligence with Japan.

The South Korean government needs to hold to its principles instead of giving way to pressure from the US. If Seoul extends GSOMIA without any change of attitude from Japan, its subservience to the US will harm both its reputation and practical interests.

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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