From trade to security: Korea-Japan conflict goes from bad to worse

20-Jul-2019 Intellasia | Korea Times | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The row between and Korea and Japan appears be extending to security, after National Security Office (NSO) chief Chung Eui-yong hinted at the possibility of reviewing the military information-sharing pact with Japan, Thursday.

Cheong Wa Dae said Friday it will not link the pact, the general Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), with the Seoul-Tokyo trade feud triggered by a dispute over wartime forced labour.

Also on the same day, the Ministry of National Defense said it will “remain unchanged” in its stance over GSOMIA, which is set to expire on August 24 after it took effect in 2016.

But four of the five major party leaders, when they jointly met President Moon Jae-in behind doors at Cheong Wa Dae, had sought to release a statement containing a phrase on scrapping GSOMIA, releasing a related statement on Thursday, according to Chung Dong-yong of the Party for Democracy and Peace (PDP).

Chung, one of the four, said the phrase was not included because main opposition Liberty Korea Party Chair Hwang Kyo-ahn was against the idea.

The GSOMIA between Seoul and Tokyo was made in November 2016 to share confidential military intelligence to tackle the North’s growing nuclear threat in the region. It is automatically renewed every year unless one side expresses its willingness to annul it 90 days before the end of its contract.

The latest tension came amid worsening relations between Seoul and Tokyo over the handling of the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling last October ordering Japanese firms to compensate South Korean forced labour victims. Japan has been claiming the issue was settled in the 1965 Seoul-Tokyo agreement, and asked South Korea to respond to its June 19 proposal to form an arbitration panel involving a third country by Thursday under the treaty to end the dispute over the labour issue. South Korea rejected it.

Regarding Chung’s remarks, the US Department of State swiftly released a comment on the matter Thursday, according to VOA, that says “The ROK-Japan GSOMIA is an important tool in our shared efforts to maintain peace and security in the region and achieve the final, fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea. The United States fully supports the ROK-Japan GSOMIA, which demonstrates the maturity of the bilateral defense relationship and improves our ability to coordinate trilaterally.”

But Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman Ko Min-jung and the Ministry of National Defense corrected Chung’s remarks on Thursday and Friday saying the government is currently not considering a review of its stance on the GSOMIA and intends to maintain the pact. But political parties excluding the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) will likely call for the cancellation of the Seoul-Tokyo military pact as diplomatic leverage to resolve the dispute with Japan.

Rep. Chung of the PDP, during a radio interview on Friday, cited the Thursday joint statement among political parties and Moon that Japan’s trade curbs could have negative repercussions on security in Northeast Asia. “The sentence implies that South Korea could break the GSOMIA, which wasn’t included in the announcement due to LKP Chair Hwang’s opposition. We should have include the sentence so that US President Donald Trump could hear it,” Chung said.

However, experts say leveraging the South’s abolition of the GSOMIA as an option to tackle the dispute with Japan is impractical, and may end up tarnishing South Korea’s reputation in handling security cooperation issues between countries including the US

“The cancellation of the GSOMIA could be a symbolic move to show what South Korea thinks, but it will not have a practical impact to improve the situation when Japan is not entirely dependent on the pact in gathering security information on the Korean Peninsula and East Asian countries,” Cha Du-hyeogn, a visiting research fellow at Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told The Korea Times, Friday.

Claiming that it is also standing against the Moon Jae-in administration’s two-track approach separating diplomacy and other issues, Cha added “The government should draw a line between diplomacy and trade. It is now making things worse.”

Shin Beom-chul, senior analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said “For those emphasising the importance of the Seoul-US-Japan security cooperation, the review of the GSOMIA is one of the worst scenarios. It is simply a mistake for Chung to mention the GSOMIA on the matter.”

Meanwhile, the Japanese government expressed “deep regrets” Friday about missing the deadline and the “breaching of international law,” releasing a statement by Foreign minister Kono Taro while summoning South Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan-pyo to file a complaint against the South Korean government.

Kono claimed in the statement that Japan had settled the forced labour issue under the 1965 agreement. “Japan deeply regrets that, as a consequence, an arbitration board under the agreement referred to on 20 May could not be constituted,” he wrote.

Kono urged South Korea again to abide by international law while pledging to “take necessary measures against South Korea.”

Regarding the measures including bringing the case to the International Court of Justice, Japan’s deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters during a regular briefing in Tokyo, Friday, that “We have been considering various measures. I won’t comment at the moment on which steps to take at what timing.”

Japan is unlikely to take immediate actions over Seoul’s rejection of its request to form the panel, but Japanese news outlets say the Japanese government is considering removing South Korea from its “white list” of countries by July 27, which may negatively influence Korea’s high-tech industries.


Category: Korea

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