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Seoul Faces Decision on Tokyo Pact     11/20 06:22

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Squeezed between a growing North Korean threat 
and a shaky alliance with the United States, South Korea must decide this week 
whether its national pride and deep frustrations with Japan are worth killing a 
major symbol of their security cooperation with Washington.

   After exchanging haymakers with Japan over history and trade, South Korea 
expanded the feud to military matters in August when it gave three-months' 
notice on its plans to terminate a 2016 bilateral military intelligence-sharing 
agreement it signed after years of prodding by the United States.

   The announcement drew unusually blunt criticism from Washington, which 
described Seoul's decision to end the pact as detrimental to the security of 
its Asian allies and increasing risk to U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

   Seoul has since said it could keep the agreement if Tokyo reverses a 
decision to downgrade South Korea's status as a trade partner.

   But neither country has been budging from their positions, with last-minute 
meetings between their diplomats and military officials ending without 
breakthroughs.

   A look at the General Security of Military Intelligence Agreement, or 
GSOMIA, which expires on Saturday unless Seoul renews it:

   ___

   LATE PUSH

   Washington considers the Seoul-Tokyo agreement as critical for their 
three-way security cooperation to cope with North Korea's nuclear and missile 
threat and balance China's growing influence.

   The arrangement makes it easier for South Korea to access information 
gathered by Japan's intelligence satellites, radars, patrol planes and other 
high-tech systems, which are needed for analyzing North Korean missile tests 
and submarines.

   For Japan, South Korea has value because its military sensors are positioned 
to detect North Korean launches sooner, and also because of information the 
country gathers from spies, North Korean defectors and other human sources.

   Visiting Seoul last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the 
agreement facilitates fast and effective information exchanges between the 
three countries, which would be crucial in times of war. He said friction 
between the two U.S. allies would only benefit "Pyongyang and Beijing."

   Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said the termination of 
the pact would "risk sending a wrong message" about the strength of the U.S. 
alliance network in the region, echoing similar comments by Japanese Defense 
Minister Taro Kono.

   South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo has endorsed keeping the pact 
for security reasons. But South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday 
reiterated that Seoul wants Tokyo to bend first.

   "If Japan doesn't want to GSOMIA to end, it should cooperate with South 
Korea to find solutions to problems such as the export controls," he said in a 
televised townhall meeting.

   ___

   SPILLED WATER

   Despite the U.S. push to save the agreement, most South Korean analysts say 
Seoul will likely let the agreement expire. There's no clear way for South 
Korea to renew the agreement without losing face.

   South Korea continues to tie the fate of the pact to Japan's trade 
restrictions, which it sees as a retaliation against South Korean court rulings 
that called for Japanese companies to offer reparations to aging South Korean 
plaintiffs for their forced labor during World War II.

   But it's unlikely that Japan will restore South Korea on its "white list" of 
favored trade partners unless the countries settle their dispute over the 
forced laborers, which probably won't be soon.

   Tokyo insists that all compensation matters were settled by a 1965 treaty 
that normalized relations between the countries and accuses Seoul of 
continuously opening the book on issues that were supposed to be resolved.

   It's hard for South Korea to make major concessions on history issues amid 
heightened public resentment over Japan's brutal colonial rule of Korea from 
1910 to 1945.

   Du Hyeogn Cha, an expert at Seoul's Kyung Hee University, said it would have 
been more productive if Seoul and Tokyo had spent the time since August 
discussing possibility of a new intelligence arrangement, instead of squabbling 
over a pact Seoul had already declared dead.

   The Trump administration's relentless demands on Seoul demonstrate a 
profound lack of respect for an ally, Cha said.

   For Seoul, extending the pact with Tokyo could create its own set of 
problems, including angry reactions from Beijing, which suspended Chinese group 
tours to South Korea among other economic retaliation measures after South 
Korea decided to host a new U.S. anti-missile system in 2016.

   "Diplomatic declarations aren't a child's play --- only state actors like 
North Korea change them on the fly" said Cha, an ex-intelligence secretary to 
former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

   "South Korea shouldn't have threatened to terminate GSOMIA in the first 
place, considering its security interests, but it's spilled water now."

   Shin Beomchul, an analyst at Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies, says 
GSOMIA is worth saving, but it would require a close and effective intervention 
from Washington. The Trump administration has largely maintained a hands-off 
approach as its two allies rapidly escalated their feud.

   ___

   VIEW FROM TOKYO

   South Korea's decision to terminate the pact came as a surprise to Japan, 
which didn't anticipate Seoul to make a move that would anger America.

   Some Japanese analysts propose similar ideas to Shin's, saying the countries 
could negotiate a one-time extension of the pact while committing to diplomatic 
progress over the history row.

   Kenichiro Sasae, a former Japanese ambassador to the United States, said the 
scrapping of the pact would be a major setback to the U.S. alliance network in 
the region.

   "A provisional extension can be a possibility, and (such) a decision by the 
South Korean government would improve the environment of negotiations," said 
Sasae, who now heads the Japan Institute of International Affairs, a 
Tokyo-based think tank.

   Others say the debacle over the pact is just one of many signs showing a 
widening divergence between Seoul and Tokyo over North Korea, China and other 
security issues.

   "For South Korea, the North is an enemy but also a future partner," said 
Junya Nishino, a professor at Keio University in Tokyo.

   Katsutoshi Kawano, Japan's former chiefs of staff, said the pact wouldn't be 
effective anyway if "South Korea doesn't consider North Korea a threat."

   __

   SEOUL'S CONUNDRUM

   Critics say Seoul dug itself into a hole by threatening to terminate the 
pact while desperately seeking U.S. help to end its dispute with Tokyo, a 
brinkmanship that clearly damaged its trust with Washington.

   The squabbling over the pact comes at a delicate time for the U.S.-South 
Korea alliance. There's growing frustration among South Koreans over President 
Donald Trump's persistent calls for the country to pay significantly more to 
help cover the costs of keeping 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea.

   There's also concern that Trump, after already suspending major U.S.-South 
Korean military exercises he described as "ridiculous and expensive," may seek 
to reduce the U.S. military presence in South Korea to accommodate a deal with 
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

   Moon Seong Mook, a former South Korean military official, said a scrapped 
GSOMIA would further embolden North Korea.

   Amid a standstill in nuclear negotiations with Washington, North Korea since 
May has tested a slew of new solid-fuel missiles that are potentially capable 
of evading missile defense systems or being launched from submarines, 
continuing to expand its ability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan.

   South Korea could also find it harder to respond to China and Russia's 
increasing air patrols over waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, 
which experts say are designed to test security cooperation between the U.S. 
allies.

   President Moon on Tuesday repeated that Japan's trade curbs, which were 
based on vague security concerns over South Korea's export controls on 
sensitive materials, forced Seoul to rethink whether it could keep sharing 
sensitive military information with a partner that questions its reliability.


(KR)

 
 
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