On Nov. 22, the South Korean government canceled its planned announcement to the Japanese government that it would terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement. The crisis of its lapse at midnight on the 23rd was avoided, and the agreement automatically renewed for another year.
Furthermore, South Korea also canceled its legal proceedings at the World Trade Organization against the Japanese government’s strengthening of export controls with South Korea on national security grounds, and the two governments decided to conduct policy talks.
On the 22nd, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “Cooperation between Japan and South Korea and among Japan, America and South Korea is of the utmost importance in responding to North Korea. South Korea also likely made this judgment from a strategic standpoint,” passing a definitive evaluation on the South Korean government’s change in direction.
It is right for the Moon Jae-in administration to rescind its foolish choice to discard the GSOMIA at the last minute.
Yet it is apparent that the Moon administration’s moves toward discarding it have greatly wounded the cooperative security relationship among Japan, America and South Korea and the South Korean-American alliance.
North Korea has not denuclearized much and continues to fire ballistic missiles. China has not halted its imperious maritime advances. The Russian military is growing more active in the Far East. It is imperative that effective security cooperation among Japan, America and South Korea and the South Korean-American alliance be repaired.
For this repair, Moon himself reflected deeply on his mistaken stance of prioritizing emotional Japanophobia over maintaining the security of his country and the northeast Asian region, and he must turn toward a true path of cooperation with Japan and the United States.
The Moon administration claimed that it would abandon the GSOMIA unless Japan withdrew its strengthened export controls with South Korea. Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s director of the national security office, said that “it had nothing to do with the South Korean-American alliance.”
But the GSOMIA increased the deterrence power of both the Japanese-American and South Korean-American alliances, of which the U.S. is the pivot. Without a mechanism to share military information between Japan and South Korea, the American military’s ability to respond to emergencies in the northeast Asian region would be hindered. So the American government vigorously demanded the Moon administration to reconsider, saying it would only please North Korea, China and Russia.
The strengthened export controls with South Korea are measures to guard against exports being converted into weapons and are not the sort of matters that’s merits and shortcomings should be discussed with South Korea. If South Korea is dissatisfied, then it should clearly demonstrate a policy dialogue about how to rectify its own administrative shortcomings.
As Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has pointed out, the biggest problem in Japanese-South Korean relations is South Korea’s breach of international laws in the conscript labor decision, and the Moon administration must also hurry to resolve this.*
*Translator’s note: The conscript labor decision refers to a ruling by South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a Japanese conglomerate, must reimburse conscript laborers from World War II for their labor.